Harvard researchers sampled natural gas used for cooking in homes around the Boston metro area and found nearly 300 chemical compounds — 21 of which are known to be toxic to humans.
Among the toxic compounds discovered was benzene, a known carcinogen, for which there is no known safe level of exposure. Researchers also found toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene and hexane — all of which are federally considered to be hazardous air pollutants.
Are gas stoves safe? Researchers led by the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health published their findings on Tuesday in the journal Environmental Science and Technology.
After taking 234 samples from 69 homes, researchers found low levels of benzene in 95% of samples. Benzene has been linked to anemia, decreased immune function and cancer.
Drew Michanowicz, visiting scientist with the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment and lead author on the study, said the presence of toxic chemicals warrants further study, but isn’t worth panicking over yet, according to Inside Climate News.
Cooking with gas: The study only measured the chemicals in the natural gas itself before it was burned, and not whether residents were actually exposed to the compounds in the air after burning the gas to heat stoves.
Despite this, the Boston Globe noted that other research found methane can leak from gas stoves even when turned off. Paired with the most recent findings, it suggests a “troubling new indicator of the safety of indoor air.”
In a statement issued on Tuesday, the American Gas Association said the natural gas industry has regularly found trace amounts of volatile organic compounds during standard testing, but argued that any amount of benzene that might leak into a room would be “below conservative health-based screening levels” and “only a tiny fraction of the typical background levels of benzene in outdoor and indoor air,” according to Inside Climate News.