Beware of the forgotten and hidden dangers of cooking gas
Posted on July 20th, 2014

Dr Hector Perera          London

When we light the cooker, natural gas burns in oxygen to give out heat so that we can cook something using that heat. To begin with you need heat to burn this gas but once it is started, it gives out more heat that means burning gas is an endothermic reaction but it gives out more heat that means it is an overall exothermic reaction. Then according to physical chemistry the overall reaction of burning methane is an exothermic reaction because it uses little energy to start but gives out more heat. Normally this gas burns in oxygen giving out carbon dioxide and water in the form of vapour. In addition to these it gives out some other poisonous gases such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide and also formaldehyde. These gases can cause you some respiratory problems such as asthma.

If there were children in the house they also could get these problems if they were close enough to the gas burners. Research found that cooks and young children, who were assumed to be in closest proximity to the stove, would have the highest exposures. If they do not use venting range hoods during cooking or inadequate ventilation during cooking this could lead to these problems, that means one must have enough ventilation or have extractor fans working during cooking to get rid of these poisonous gases. I am sure at least they can open the window in the kitchen to have some ventilation.

Natural gas needs oxygen to burn but if there was not enough oxygen in the air within the kitchen, it will burn carbon dioxide to some extent to give carbon monoxide.  This is not a problem in countries such as in Sri Lanka because they always leave the kitchen window and the door wide open because the weather is normally hot unlike in cold countries. In colder climates such as in countries like California and England people may not want to use vents because they send warm indoor air outside. A vent is a solution but not the only solution,” says Greg Diette, a Johns Hopkins University professor of medicine, epidemiology, and environmental health sciences. On the other hand an electric cooker is better than gas stoves because it does not work on natural gas.

     Problems with natural gas

 Living with natural gas can be a health hazard both for people who are healthy and for those who are already ill. It is especially risky for people who have weakened immune systems, including those who are asthmatic, allergic, or chemically sensitive.  Gas appliances create a constant low level exposure to gas which can cause or increase illnesses.  Natural gas is a sensitizer, which means that exposure can lead to intolerance and adverse reactions both to it and other substances in our environment.  
The British medical journal, The Lancet, reported in1996 that the use of domestic gas appliances, particularly gas stoves, was linked to increased asthma, respiratory illness, and impaired lung function especially in young women.  Women using gas stoves had double the respiratory problems of women cooking on electric stoves. The same study showed that using extractor fans which vented the cooking fumes outside did not reduce adverse effects of gas.

In a combined series of studies of 47,000 patients, two doctors found that “the most important sources of indoor pollution responsible for generating (environmental) illness were the gas cooker stoves, hot water heaters, and furnaces” writes Dr. Bill Rea, of the Dallas Environmental Health Centre.

    Medical problems with the use of gas

“For the chemically susceptible individual this gas may be the worst form of fuel,” writes Dr. T. G. Randolph.  But surprisingly, his studies found that when gas stoves were removed from the home of a person with chemical sensitivities, not only did their health improve, but so did the health of all family members.
Other studies have found that children living in homes with gas stoves had more than double the risk for respiratory symptoms, including asthma. Asthma patients who used a gas stove seven or more times a week were found to have doubled their risk of emergency room treatment. Infants who grow up in households with gas are almost twice as likely to develop childhood asthma as those who live with second-hand smoke. (Second hand smoke itself doubles a child’s risk of developing asthma.) These studies have all been published in respected medical journals.


Poisonous gases given out by gas burning

When natural gas is burned, as in cooking and heating, the chemicals create nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, fine particulates, poly-cyclic-aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds (including formaldehyde) as well as other chemicals. Just imagine what you are breathing when you bend over a gas cooker to stir your food or when you open the oven door. This stuff sticks to your food, so you eat it as well. It sticks to clothes in gas dryers so you are covering your skin in it. It is lighter than air so it rises up into your living and sleeping areas, concentrating higher up nearer your head.

At a conference on air quality and children’s health sponsored by the New Brunswick Lung Association, much attention was given to the respiratory problems caused by moulds.  Natural gas turns out to be a contributor to mould growth.

Natural growth of moulds in the kitchen

One of the principal products of gas combustion is water vapour. Gas is a hydrocarbon that means all the hydrogen combine with oxygen to give water vapour and carbon reacts with oxygen to form carbon dioxide. This is the normal oxidation reaction of methane but in absence of enough oxygen to burn and in high temperature, it gives other poisonous by-products. Cooking with gas or burning gas in any way without perfect venting generates considerable amounts of moisture. When this moisture remains inside a kitchen it is enough to be a significant contributorto grow moulds on the walls or anywhere nearby such as on kitchen cupboards and curtains. This excess moisture also provides better growing conditions for dust mites, viruses and bacteria. During cooking and also after cooking, you may notice this moisture on the walls, the kitchen cupboards surface that are near the cooker.


Why the kitchen cabinet surface is sticky?

You cannot forget to see the moisture on the surface of the glass kitchen cabinet, window and on the glass panel of the door. If you run the finger on this moisture, and on the walls near the cooker, if you didn’t feel sticky, I would be surprised. Now how this sticky nature did came there? These are the oils and chemicals that evaporated from the food and the ingredients added to food. If you don’t like the ingredients then try frying some sausages, bacon or even fish or dry fish, still you get this moisture and oily droplets depositing on those places.  Can I say this is a part of the chicken cologne and curry cologne? Now you see that these oily, sticky chemical shower might have deposited on your hands, face, hair and on clothes when you open to stir the boiling curries. Some housewives say, stirring and checking salt in the gravy is a part of normal cooking, I cannot disagree at all but it can be modified according to my method of scientific energy saving cooking.

Additional dangerous chemicals in the cooking gas

Natural gas brings other harmful chemicals and problems into homes through the methane it contains. Methane (which gives the flame its blue colour as it does in propane) is an asphyxiant. Simple asphyxiants are inert gases or vapors that displace oxygen from air when present in high concentrations. In low concentrations, they have no physiologic effects. Many simple asphyxiants have little or no warning properties. Natural gas or the cooking gas typically contains impurities and additives including radon and other radioactive materials, BTEX (benzene, toluene, ethyl-benzene and xylene), organometallic compounds such as methyl-mercury, organo-arsenic and organo-lead. The gas suppliers add another chemical to natural gas so that if there was a gas leak it can be detected by smell. These are the mercaptan odorants added to natural gas so that it can be detected by scent before reaching explosive levels.

These aromatic organo chemicals such as benzene, toluene are usually available only in research laboratories, they are good solvents as well. If they are to be handled, usually they should be done inside a fume cupboard with the extractor fan.

How about a fume cupboard for the gas cooker?

Sometimes I thought, the gas cookers should be inside fume cupboards just like in chemistry laboratories. In normal school laboratories this chemical called Hydrogen sulphide is used inside a fume cupboard. I must be the first person to suggest this kind of modification to the kitchen for safety reasons. Actually back home in Sri Lanka in fire wood stove kitchens where Kussi amma” cooked is a kind of fume cupboard. I think Kussi amma” cooks safely in firewood stoves than cooking on gas cookers. Directly over the firewood stove there was the outlet chimney for the hot air and fumes but the hot air and fumes sometimes had to go pass a shelf called Dum messa” or Atuwa”. This is the place sometimes they placed dry fish, dry red chillies and other dry ingredients, sometimes rice to dry. The smoke and heat from the firewood stoves keep off the insects and creepy crawlers from rice and other food stuff left there to dry. I cannot say briefly how useful is this so called Dum messa” or Atwa”.
I think the modern researchers come into conclusion only now to have a vent to let out cooking gas and smells but how did this Kussi amma” knew this method about vent or Dum Messa” or Atuwa” long before the researchers? Your comments are welcomed

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