From: Allison Winter, ENN
Published July 23, 2013 04:46 PM

Range Hoods May Minimize Kitchen Pollution

When I think of indoor air pollution, I immediately put the blame on cigarette smoke or household cleaning products. But according to a new study, we now should watch out for the hazardous levels of nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide that come from us cooking in our kitchens.

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Scientist Brett Singer and his team of Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) indoor air researchers have found that a significant portion of residences in California exceed outdoor air quality standards for several pollutants on a weekly basis as a result of cooking with gas burners. "If these were conditions that were outdoors, the EPA [Environmental Protection Agency] would be cracking down. But since it's in people's homes, there's no regulation requiring anyone to fix it," Singer said. "Reducing people's exposure to pollutants from gas stoves should be a public health priority."

Without appropriate ventilation, indoor air quality can suffer and cause serious health problems. The indoor pollutant that scientists believe may be most harmful to human health are fine particles, which are less than 2.5 micrometers in diameter, and ultrafine particles, which are smaller than 1 micrometer because they can enter our lungs and the smaller particles can even enter our bloodstream and other tissues. They are produced by both gas and electric burners and by cooking. 

These pollutants can come both from the cooking burners — especially gas burners but, to a lesser extent, electric burners also — as well as from cooking itself. 

"Electric burners produce ultrafine particles essentially by volatilizing dust," Singer explained. "It's the same process with your toaster, resistance heater or radiator if you haven't used it for awhile. After you turn it on, you can smell it­ — it smells terrible. You're smelling the chemicals that have been volatilized. Once they're in the air, they recondense into these ultrafine particles. This is the chemistry lab in your kitchen."

Singer's group has been collecting data that will eventually allow consumers to evaluate and compare the effectiveness of different range hoods. "If every one of those homes were to use a range hood that exhausts to the outside and is even moderately effective, the number of homes exceeding the standards would drop by more than half," he said.

The Berkeley Lab researchers are working toward an ASTM International test standard that manufacturers could voluntarily use to rate their products.

The study will soon be published in Environmental Health Perspectives.

Read more at the University of California Newsroom.

Cooking image via Shutterstock.

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