In this photo provided by climate scientist Rob Jackson, researcher Eric Lebel samples natural gas from a stove in Stanford, Calif., in 2021. Credit: Rob Jackson via AP

A U.S. safety agency official recently told reporters that gas stoves should be regulated because even short exposures to particles they emit may increase the risk for asthma and cardiovascular disease.

The official said his agency, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, will request information from the public about the possible hazards of gas stoves starting in March to determine whether they need to be regulated.

Natural gas stoves, used in about 35 percent of U.S. homes, emit nitrogen dioxide, methane and other air pollutants. Propane has lower emissions. They are not as prevalent in Maine, where some 8 percent of homes heat and cook with natural gas, which has expanded into many areas of the state in the last decade or so.

Maine already has among the highest rates of asthma in the nation. Part of that is attributable to pollution blown from other parts of the country and to other factors, such as having indoor, furry pets. But four in 10 Maine children with asthma live in homes where gas is used for cooking, according to Maine respondents to a federal health survey.

About 18,000 Maine children and 140,000 adults currently have asthma, according to the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Children are more susceptible to emissions from stoves, with 26 children up to age 4 and 15 children aged 5 to 14 having had to visit emergency departments for asthma in 2020, the Maine Health Data Organization said.

The move by the national agency came around the same time as a study that said almost 13 percent of U.S. children under age 18 have asthma attributable to gas stove use, about the same number as those who have asthma related to secondhand smoke exposure.

The research was published in December in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, whose authors cautioned that further study is needed about the impacts of ventilation and other mitigation strategies.

However, many people are unaware it may be a problem. Gas stoves are at the center of the home’s gathering place, Richard Trumka Jr., a commissioner on the Consumer Product Safety Commission, told reporters on a mid-December webinar. When consumers have ventilation, it may just recirculate the air rather than taking it outside, he said.

“That’s why I think we need to be talking about regulating gas stoves, whether that’s drastically improving emissions or banning gas stoves entirely,” he said.

Maine Public Advocate William Harwood is also concerned about natural gas stove emissions. Last year, he and staffers started questioning Maine gas utilities, state agencies and public safety and licensing boards about the possible dangers after reading a Stanford University study published in Environmental Science & Technology that said methane leaks from stoves even when they are turned off.

Harwood found that the utilities and state agencies may have heard of the studies, but hadn’t delved into their implications.

“It just doesn’t quite reach up to the priority radar on anyone,” he said. Maybe this consumer product safety is the impetus to come back to it.”

Meantime, consumers have some options. Those who want to switch to an electric range could get a rebate of up to $840 for a new stove under the Inflation Reduction Act.

A Summit Natural Gas spokesperson said the company does not believe that natural gas presents a material risk to air quality in Maine homes. But it does believe an impartial study by the state on key drivers of asthma and indoor air quality in Maine would be prudent.

“In a state with one of the highest asthma rates in the country, we take air quality very seriously,” she said.

For more information on asthma resources in Maine go to https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/mecdc/population-health/mat/ or call 287-3041.