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Health professionals warn Nelson council about the dangers of natural gas stoves

Dr. Kyle Merritt says detriments of gas pollution in kitchens are established science
Nelson physician Dr. Kyle Merritt and nursing student Katherine Oldfield presented to Nelson City Council on April 25 about the health dangers of indoor cooking with natural gas. They represent the group Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health. Photo: Nelson City Council video screenshot

Emissions from gas stoves pollute kitchens and expose residents to a number of serious health hazards, according to Nelson doctors and nurses who want to see gas phased out of new residential units.

Those emissions also contribute to climate change because they contain methane and carbon dioxide.

Dr. Kyle Merritt and Katherine Oldfield, representing the group Doctors and Nurses for Planetary Health, presented that message to Nelson City Council council at its April 25 meeting.

“We’re here today because new homes in Nelson are still being connected to natural gas,” Merritt said.

Natural gas is mostly methane, a powerful greenhouse gas when it leaks into the atmosphere. When it’s burned it creates the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

The dangers of indoor pollution caused by cooking with gas tend to be overlooked because the products of combustion are invisible, but it contains fine particulate matter that is known to contribute to an array of conditions including breathing difficulties, allergies and headaches in the short term, and diabetes, stroke and cardiovascular disease in the long term.

Proper ventilation helps, Merritt said, but that only goes so far.

“You wouldn’t idle your car in your living room and turn on a bathroom fan or open the window.”

Merritt said he installed a wildfire smoke sensor in his kitchen and found that pollutants spiked dramatically whenever he turned on his gas stove.

“Really, this has been studied for decades,” he said, “and there are many studies that show evidence of harm.”

Oldfield asked council and the audience how many people run their fume hood full time while they are cooking with gas. The only person to raise a hand was Mayor Janice Morrison.

“So, because of the health impacts of gas, why not install clean electric appliances?” she said.

Merritt said the American Medical Association and the American Thoracic Society have both recommended that natural gas hookups for new residential construction should be eliminated.

In a separate presentation to council on the same evening, FortisBC’s Blair Weston outlined the company’s plans to diversify its energy sources in the province, including increased production of renewable natural gas — methane produced from farms, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants that would then be piped to homes.

FortisBC provides electricity, natural gas and propane to 1.2 million customers in B.C.

Merritt said they don’t think renewable natural gas is “consistent with a healthy future. In the end, renewable natural gas is still mostly methane, and it’s methane that’s going to be piped into our homes and combusted in our homes.”

Asked about this after the meeting, Weston said methane becomes mostly CO2 when burned, and the latter is 80 times less potent as a greenhouse gas than methane. He characterized the increasing production and use of renewable natural gas as part of the company’s gradual transition to renewable energy in B.C.

Oldfield said regardless of whether the gas is renewable or not, the health hazards in the home are the same.

“We’re healthcare practice professionals,” Oldfield said. “We’re always looking at things through the lens of what’s best for our patients and our community, and that’s the stance we’re going to take.”

Oldfield said grid electricity in B.C. achieves close to zero emissions because 98 per cent of it is generated from clean or renewable resources, and many electric heating and cooking appliances are now available including heat pumps. The province has committed to 100 per cent clean electricity and has created the Zero Carbon Step Code to help municipalities transition.

“The challenge of climate change,” she said, “is no longer about the destination but about the speed. We’re in a race and winning slowly is just the same as losing.”

Morrison said council will be having a strategic planning session in May, and that some of it will be dedicated to the implementation of its climate plan Nelson Next, which calls for a switch to electric utilities in buildings.

Nelson Next recognizes that buildings and transportation are the largest emitters of greenhouse gases in municipalities.

Councillor Jesse Pineiro asked what would happen if everyone immediately switched to electricity in their homes.

Merritt said the province does not have the electrical capability to do that now.

“But we’re not going to build that capability if there’s no demand for it,” he said.

The answer is not “19 more Site C dams” but new technologies that are already viable.

“We will be doing this with solar and wind and storage and smart grids, and with load-sharing and demand monitoring all these new technologies that are going to make electrification way, way more appealing and way more workable than the grid that we have now.”

He said cities can start by not installing gas hookups in new buildings and by providing incentives for the installation of electrical heat, cooling, cooking and water heating.

The province and the City of Nelson are already headed in this direction, with the BC Energy Step Code (which deals with air tightness of buildings) and the province’s Zero Carbon Step Code (which measures carbon pollution escaping from homes).

These codes consist of a number of increasingly higher standards that municipalities can commit to in the construction of new buildings, and the province is requiring adherence to gradually higher steps.

Nelson recently committed itself to building standards in those codes that are higher than those required by the province. However, neither the province nor the city currently requires any specific type of cooking appliance hookup in new buildings.


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Nelson’s climate change plan calls for big changes in transportation, buildings

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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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