Kitchen Air Pollution Risk
From Gas Ranges Revealed
By Rob Edwards

The health of young children is at risk from the air pollution in kitchens caused by gas cookers. A new study for the British government reveals that safety guidelines for nitrogen dioxide recommended by the World Health Organization are breached in most homes that cook with gas.

Nitrogen dioxide is formed when the nitrogen and oxygen in the air react in the gas flame. It is also one of the pollutants from vehicle exhausts, and can exacerbate respiratory illnesses in adults and make breathing difficult for young children.

Scientists from the Building Research Establishment in Garston, Watford, surveyed 876 homes across England over 17 months up to February 1999. They found concentrations of NO2 in kitchens that frequently exceeded both the WHO background limit of 40 micrograms per cubic metre and the hourly limit of 200.

The background limit was breached in more than half of the 57 per cent of homes that used natural gas, with the highest concentration NO2 concentration found being 620 micrograms per cubic metre. The mean level in kitchens (21.8) was higher than that for outdoors (20.9).

Under fives

Jeff Llewellyn, the BRE's indoor pollution expert, says that the levels should not cause healthy adults any problems. But he warns that keeping children under five in the kitchen for prolonged periods "may not be a very wise or healthy thing to do".

The study urges consideration of measures to cut NO2 in kitchens, but points out that extractor fans seem to be "only marginally effective". According to Llewellyn, kitchen windows should be opened while cooking and internal doors closed to prevent pollution spreading to the rest of the house.

NO2 is only one of many indoor pollutants that could threaten health. Earlier studies have highlighted the hazards of tiny particles from gas cooking. Others raise the potential problems in new homes from formaldehyde and volatile organic compounds from furniture, floors and paints (New Scientist, 10 March 2001, page 20).

The British government has yet to fulfil the commitment it made in 1991 to draw up guidelines for indoor air quality, though this is now being considered by the Department of Health's Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollution.

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