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California moves closer to requiring new pollutant-warning labels for gas stoves

SOPHIE AUSTIN
May 13, 2024

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- California could require all new gas stoves sold in the state to carry a label warning users about pollutants they can release that have been linked to respiratory illnesses.

The state Assembly approved a proposal Monday that would require the label on gas stoves or ranges made or sold online after 2024, or sold in a store after 2025. The bill now heads to the state Senate.

Proponents of the legislation say it is a necessary step to help address childhood asthma and other respiratory problems. Opponents say the legislation is unnecessary and that the state should focus on promoting better ventilation in buildings to improve air quality.

"Despite the growing body of evidence about the health risks of gas stoves, most of this isn't common knowledge," said Assemblymember Gail Pellerin, a Democrat representing part of Santa Cruz County. "This bill will help the purchaser make more informed decisions about gas stoves and oven appliances."

The bill passed largely along party lines and with no debate.

The label would warn users that breathing in large concentrations of chemicals, such as nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and benzene, could "exacerbate preexisting respiratory illnesses and increase the risk of developing leukemia and asthma, especially in children." It would also state that ventilation can lower the risk of exposure to these chemicals.

Gas stoves have been at the center of hot political debates in recent years over climate policy, childhood health and consumer choice. In 2019, Berkeley, California, became the first city in the country to adopt a ban on natural gas in new homes and buildings, but courts blocked that law upon a challenge from the California Restaurant Association. The city recently halted enforcement of its policy after a federal court refused to hear an appeal.

The latest California proposal was inspired by a similar bill in Illinois that has not passed, said Jenn Engstrom, state director of the California Public Interest Research Group, a nonprofit advocacy group.

Outside of California, New York state passed a law banning natural gas stoves and furnaces in most new buildings starting in 2026. Last year, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives approved a bill that would have banned the use of federal money to regulate gas stoves as a hazardous product. The bill has not been approved by the Senate.

California voters already approved a law in the 1980s requiring warning labels on gas stoves and other products if they expose people to significant amounts of chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects and reproductive harm. The label required under this year's proposal would go further by mentioning respiratory illnesses.

About 40% of U.S. households cook using gas as a heat source, according to The Association of Home Appliance Manufacturers, which opposes the California bill.

"Adding yet another label to gas cooking products does not address the overall concern of indoor air quality while cooking," spokesperson Jill Notini said in an email. "All forms of cooking, regardless of heat source, generate air pollutants, especially at high temperatures."

People can improve ventilation while cooking by using a range hood and by making sure the range hood vents to the outdoors, according to the California Air Resources Board. People whose kitchens do not have a range hood should use a fan or open windows while cooking, the agency says.

There is growing evidence that chemicals released by gas stoves can worsen symptoms for people with respiratory problems, such as asthma, said Dr. Lisa Patel, a pediatrician and executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health. There is also concern that they could contribute to childhood asthma cases. She compared what has become a culture war over gas stoves to fights in the past to regulate seatbelts and tobacco products.

"We're going through another moment where something that feels like an institution in our homes, suddenly we're being told that it's bad for our health," Patel said. "It's not because it wasn't bad for our health all along. It was just that we didn't have the data before. We have the data now."

___

Austin is a corps member for The Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues. Follow Austin on the social platform X: @sophieadanna

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