New report explains why gas stoves and pipelines are so toxic for New Yorkers

Gothamist, Rosemary Misdary, Oct 19, 2023

During a virtual press conference held on Thursday, a coalition of state legislators, doctors and scientists called on New York Gov. Kathy Hochul to pass the NY Home Energy Affordable Transition Act — a bill that would empower the state’s utility regulator to downsize and decommission the natural gas network of pipelines and plants.

This renewed push to pass the bill in next year’s budget came alongside the release of the ninth edition of the Compendium of Scientific, Medical, and Media Findings Demonstrating Risks and Harms of Fracking. The 600-page tome’s authors are the Concerned Health Professionals of New York and the Physicians for Social Responsibility, a group that shared the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize and advocates for public health in energy, environmental and nuclear weapons policy.

The report outlines and reasserts how appliances running on natural gas are responsible for many pollutants released inside homes, including nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and benzene. Previous compendiums were instrumental in banning gas fracking in New York in 2014.

“My message today is that in spite of our statewide fracking ban, New Yorkers are still not protected from the harmful toxic exposures that fracking inevitably brings, nor from the climate crisis that fracking exacerbates,” said Sandra Steingraber, biologist and a co-founder of Concerned Health Professionals of New York.

The report, which was researched and compiled over a decade, shows that nitrogen dioxide and benzene are released at every stage of the fracking process, from workers in the fracking fields with high levels of benzene in their urine to elevated nitrogen dioxide levels found in residents living near power plants. Inside homes, gas stoves are linked to nearly 13% of childhood asthma cases in the United States. In New York, childhood asthma rates linked to gas stoves are higher, accounting for nearly 1 in 5 cases, according to the compendium.

In the U.S., children living in a home with a gas stove have an increased risk of asthma by 42%. The report also demonstrates that the indoor concentrations of nitrogen dioxide range from 50% to 400% higher in U.S. homes with gas stoves than those with electric stoves. Chronic exposure is linked to cancer and heart disease.

“Communities of color or poor, working-class communities like the ones that I represent, they bear the brunt of it because they’re more likely to live in smaller, older, less ventilated spaces,” said New York state Sen. Gustavo Rivera, who represents parts of the Bronx and chairs the legislative body’s health committee. “In New York state, 1 out of 10 New York state children suffer from asthma. But in the Bronx, it’s 1 out of 4.”

The NY HEAT Act, if passed, would be instrumental in expediting a transition away from the use of this common fuel source for cooking, heat and hot water. The bill gives the New York Public Service Commission the power to discontinue the use of natural gas for any customer or service area as it decommissions sections of this fuel system. The legislation also prohibits the expansion of natural gas infrastructure into new service areas starting Dec. 21, 2025.

The measure aims to make energy providers compliant with New York state’s Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, which mandates an economywide greenhouse gas emissions drop of 40% by 2030 and a drop of no less than 85% by 2050 compared to 1990 levels.

The bill passed the state Senate 39-23 at the end of the last legislative session but failed in the Assembly. The measure is currently back in committee with the Assembly, and has 71 co-sponsors.

Natural gas and dual fuels (gas plus oil) account for nearly half of the state’s utility demand. In New York City, that portion jumps to almost 90%. Despite the impending energy transition, the state has approved about $150 billion to replace thousands of miles of pipelines.

With every deep breath, humans take two cups of air into their lungs. In that single breath, Steingraber said people also take in benzene and nitrogen dioxide as a result of gas-fired appliances in their homes.

Read more: The Gothamist