Toxic Flickers

In the hushed corners
of our cosy homes
gas stoves hiss with intent,
whispers of malice
dancing in the simmering heat
of every
duck confit
and tin of
own-brand beans.
Tiny tongues that lick
and curl,
savouring the tastes
with every sour breath,
their flames a vessel
of transformation
where alchemy
takes flight.
Yet in shadows
sickness looms,
trembling, sickly fingers
reaching out
to spread
their malaise.

Stanford graduate student Metta Nicholson preparing to test a gas stove in Bakersfield, Calif (Image Credit: Rob Jackson, Stanford University).

This poem is inspired by recent research, which has found that combustion from gas stoves can raise indoor levels of the toxic chemical benzene.

Gas stoves release toxic chemicals like carbon monoxide, formaldehyde, and nitrogen dioxide, which can harm respiratory health and increase asthma risks. Benzene, a carcinogen formed during incomplete combustion, is also present indoors from gas stoves, and poses a significant risk, particularly for leukaemia and lymphoma. With over one-third of US households and millions worldwide using gas for cooking, the scale of exposure is substantial. However, until now, there hasn’t been any research that quantified the formation of benzene inside homes specifically from gas stoves.

In this new study, researchers examined 87 homes across California and Colorado, and found that the combustion of natural gas and propane in these stoves emitted measurable levels of benzene. In some homes, the indoor benzene concentrations exceeded established health guidelines. The researchers found gas and propane burners and ovens emitted 10 to 50 times more benzene than electric stoves, and that induction cook tops emitted no detectable benzene whatsoever. Benzene from gas and propane stoves were also found to spread throughout the entire home, leading to elevated benzene levels in bedrooms for several hours even after the stove was turned off. This suggests that gas stoves could significantly contribute to benzene exposure and compromise indoor air quality. Taking measures to mitigate these risks, such as improving ventilation and considering alternative cooking methods, is therefore essential to ensure both a healthy indoor environment and a sustainable future.

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