Not cooking with gas

| May 9, 2021

Is natural gas making us sick? Does it cause asthma in children? According to the Climate Council it contributes up to 12 per cent of the childhood asthma burden in Australia. So, should gas appliances including heaters, hot water services and cooktops be phased out?

World Health Organisation guidelines for indoor air quality specify limits for a range of indoor air pollutants, many of which are also found in vehicle exhaust emissions. Cars using unleaded petrol (ULP) emit volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene and very small (PM 2.5) particles.

Benzene is known to cause severe illness in humans. It weakens the immune system and causes leukemia and other cancers. Anaemia, respiratory problems, menstrual issues and birth defects result from chronic exposure to benzine and other VOCs. Vehicles using premium ULP emit more benzene than those using regular unleaded.

Cigarette smoke contains VOCs and it is a health risk to smokers and anyone else exposed to it. The same goes for inhaling petrol vapours or exhaust fumes at the filling pump or anywhere vehicles are using ULP. The resulting health issues can be made worse by alcohol consumption.

Most of the 15 million passenger vehicles in Australia run on ULP and average 11,000 km per annum. They emit more than 1,000 tonnes of VOCs, much of it near ground level. VOC emissions from cold engine starts are up to 30 times more than for hot starts.

Automatic engine stop/restart systems are a marketing gimmick used to fudge the fuel economy tests. Not only are they a nuisance, they produce unnecessary VOC emissions close to homes, schools, carparks, intersections, pedestrian crossings and shops etc.

The Australian government has been considering a ban on regular unleaded fuel for some time. Replacing regular ULP with ethanol blends would increase the price of petrol but public health would benefit from lower VOCs and PM 2.5 emissions.

Indoor air pollution is closely linked to outdoor ambient air quality. Exposure to high levels of VOCs from vehicle exhaust emissions is unavoidable and probably is a major contributor to acute respiratory problems, especially during air quality alerts.

The phrase ‘cooking with gas’ usually relates to progress in the right direction. Now it seems that NOT cooking with gas is the way to go. But, don’t worry, it’s OK to keep motoring along on unleaded gas (ULP) without looking too far ahead.