NY Times "The Kitchen as a Pollution Hazard"

deeageauxJuly 23, 2013


By midmorning, the smell of hot peanut oil dissipated and inside the tightly sealed laboratory known as Building 51F, a pink hamburger sizzled in a pan over a raging gas flame. Overhead, fans whirred, whisking caustic smoke up through a metallic esophagus of ductwork.

Woody Delp, 49, a longhaired engineer in glasses , the Willie Nelson of HVAC, supervised the green bean and hamburger experiments. He sat at a computer inside a kitchen simulator, rows upon rows of numeric data appearing on his screen, ticking off the constituents of the plume sucked up the flue. A seared hamburger patty, as he sees it, is just a reliable source for indoor pollution.

"I can claim Alice Waters influenced the recipe," he said. "It's all fresh and local."

But Dr. Delp and his colleagues aren't really interested in testing recipes. They are scientists at the Energy Department's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, and the morning's experiment concerned another kitchen conundrum, a fight against physics: how to remove harmful contaminants caused by cooking.

Simply put, cooking is an act of controlled combustion - you set oil, fat, and carbohydrates on fire. As a health hazard, incinerating hamburgers and green beans may pale in comparison with lighting wood or coal fires indoors, the leading environmental cause of death and disability around the world. Yet frying, grilling or toasting foods with gas and electric appliances creates particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, and volatile organic compounds. (Acrolein, which most cooks recognize as the smell of burnt fats or oils, was used in grenades in World War I because it causes irritation to the lungs and eyes.)

Emissions of nitrogen dioxide in homes with gas stoves exceed the Environmental Protection Agency's definition of clean air in an estimated 55 percent to 70 percent of those homes, according to one model; a quarter of them have air quality worse than the worst recorded smog (nitrogen dioxide) event in London. Cooking represents one of the single largest contributors, generating particulate matter (formally known as PM2.5) at concentrations four times greater than major haze events in Beijing.

"Because we�re used to the smell, we don't think of it as an issue," said Jennifer M. Logue, 32, an air quality engineer at the Berkeley Lab. "When you live in a small building, you cook a lot and don't use your range hood, which may not be very effective anyway, then you�re probably going to have a problem with pollutants from cooking."

Recently Dr. Logue estimated the long-term health effects expected from hundreds of chemicals found in average homes. Her 2012 study, published in Environmental Health Perspectives, used a common epidemiological metric known as disability-adjusted life-year to show that the population-wide health impact of indoor pollutants is on a par with that of car accidents, and greater than that of traditional concerns like secondhand smoke or radon.

Thanks to sharonite in the Kitchen Forum for pointing out article. Rest of article in link.

Here is a link that might be useful: NYT

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Thanks for the link. I was amused by this comment at the end of the article:

"Dr. Singer refers to recirculating hoods, only somewhat jokingly, as 'forehead greasers.' "

For anybody interested in further reading, I've linked to the study below. A quick pass through it and it seems to confirm what kaseki has been saying here for quite some time.

Here is a link that might be useful: Performance Assessment of U.S. Residential Cooking Exhaust Hoods

This post was edited by JWVideo on Tue, Jul 23, 13 at 21:46

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 7:52PM
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Thanks for your link, JW. I have only had time so far to skim it. I am amused, I guess, that on the one hand they criticize the hoods for poor capture and containment, and on the other insist on low cfm performance for energy star purposes.

Even if one is cooking on a $6k stove using food from a $10k refrigerator (imputed interest at 6% is $2.63 a day and we haven't even counted the rest of the kitchen), one should not spend more than 8 cents per hour running the hood. Political correctness run amuck.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 8:57PM
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Good one, kas. I missed the energy star stuff in the first skim. (I used to work for DOE and energy star discussions make my eyes glaze over.) What I picked up on is the official proof that good capture and containment matter.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 9:54PM
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Important stuff, No doubt.

My grandmother never had a fancy hood, and I dont recall a hood at all, too bad!!!! had she had one , she might have lived past 104 years.

Her Oldest daughter, and again no fancy hood also lived to 104.

My Mom who is now 90, No fancy hood, and she's still going strong, married 3rd husband, She outlived the other 2.

Hmmmmm, You think those "Noxious fumes", only attack males?????


    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 10:19PM
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Come on Gary,

Lets stop decapitating straw men.

Nowhere in that article is there a claim that there is a direct relationship between proper venting and life expectancy.

It is one of a matrix of health hazards.

A meth addict with a carefree attitude to condemn use with a 2400 cfm 27" deep Modern Aire is likely to have a shorter life expectancy than a nun with an organic garden that cooks without any rangehood.

    Bookmark   July 23, 2013 at 10:39PM
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Funny stuff in a subject that I previously found painful (cost, aesthetics).

"Current Energy Star standards do not consider the pollutant removal purpose of cooking exhaust fans and therefore do not adequately address performance efficiency."

I think I have a great idea for an energy star fridge. It won't cool the food, but it uses led lighting.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:08AM
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Go Mama!

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 9:27AM
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Good joke, but a little off target. :>) What we have now is highly efficient fridges that do a good job of cooling the food. (Wait for the rimshot.) While they last.

And, not only do the fridges seem to have shortened lifespans, they are all too often irritatingly noisy. Because of the shortened lifespans, we have to replace them more often, with the attendent consumption of materials and energy in manufacturing and transport along with increased waste disposal, none of which get figured into the energy star equations.

And the LED lighting? They last a lot longer and run much cooler so, if your door switch breaks, the bulbs won't overheat the interior (or set the fridge on fire as apparently was the case with incandescent bulbs in numbers of LG SxS fridges of several years ago.)

As for "decapitating strawmen," I see both sides and agree (to an extent) with each.

Seems to me that, back when us old guys' grandmothers were working kitchens, most houses were a lot leakier than most are today. And there were a lot of other things floating around in both indoor and outdoor air back then. Like coal dust. Some folks, like Gary's grandmother, mother and aunt were a lot more resistant to the stuff than others. Heck, one of my grandfathers lived to 80 while sopping the bacon grease with his breakfast toast and, from the time he was 16 years old, drinking a pint of gin every day and smoking three packs of cigarettes a day. And cooking on a gas stove. (Interesting, though, the rest of my grandparents' generation and my parents' generation all had a very strong preference for electric stoves when they could get them.)

On the other hand, I think Gary is correct to suggest that the NYT report is a bit overblown in its reporting of concerns about the level of indoor air pollution from the use of residential gas stoves. Not incorrect, necessarily, just overblown. To be sure, for people who spend many hours over a gas stove in a kitchen every day (as with, say, a restaurant or in an old-fashioned ranch kitchen), then the NO2 and CO2 levels will be a health concern in ways that won't be a big deal for the short spurts of cooking that many do in most homes. Also, the EPA studies about kitchen air quality being worse than the notoriously polluted quality of outdoor air in Bejing seem to be comparing point source measurements at the stove rather than in the room as a whole and overlook that biggest issue with Bejing air is the huge amount of suspended corrosive particulate matter. The article's comment about the horrendous London smog event being an NO2 problem is simply mistaken. The famous and infamous London fogs did have high NO2 levels, but it was the coal dust and ash in the air that made them deadly. Nobody with a reasonable gas cooking stove in this country should be seeing heavy concentrations of coal dust from the stove. So it seems to be an exaggeration to suggest that there is an imminent crisis in the kitchen, as the NYT article implies.

But saying that we here do not have an imminent health crisis is not to say that there is no cause for concern. As deeageaux points out, there is a matrix of health concerns and combustion by-products are one of them. There is a problem with the use of gas stoves without sufficient kitchen venting. It is a good thing to address this problem. Personally, I'm all in favor of coming up with range hoods/OTRs that would be reliable and effective with fans operating at low and quiet speeds while meeting energy star standards.

What I'm not in favor of is focusing on just one aspect -- such as a building code that requires everybody to have a kitchen vent fan but only requiring them to energy star compliant. If energy star compliance is the only criteria, then the mockery from kas and kksmama is well deserved.

And it is a risk simply because a lot of institutional programs are evaluated on one-dimensional metrics, often the easiest thing to measure. It is an old saw of management and public administration that you need to be very careful in choosing metrics because you will get what you measure.

I took that to be the point being made in sentence that kksmama quoted from the Lawrence Livermore report. I read that sentence as saying saying that the problem with the current Energy Star standards is that the ratings are one-dimensional measures that simply do not account for the actual purpose of the appliance. I took kksmama's quotation as a foundation for her further mocking the current energy star standards.

So, having reread that Lawrence Livermore Lab report with that in mind, what I am seeing is advocacy is for effective designs that can run quietly and effectively while also meeting energy star requirements and still be inexpensive enough to be affordable for the kitchens of the less affluent of us. Admirable goals. Possibly, pie in the sky, though, and I take Kas's point to be that everything we know about rangehoods suggests that the physics of air movement are such that (at least for now) there is no way to get all of these goals in one package and that energy star goals may be close to meaningless in this context.

Lots to think about.

This post was edited by JWVideo on Wed, Jul 24, 13 at 15:38

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 2:46PM
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I skimmed through the link that JWVideo provided -- they provide the data and the models and specs. Interestingly, nothing tested would be considered "powerful enough" for many of the favorite ranges, rangetops and cooktops discussed here. I was also amused that the most efficient and most powerful model tested was a micro-hood combo! (The premium model tested was a single blower VAH).

    Bookmark   July 24, 2013 at 3:58PM
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"ratings are one-dimensional measures that simply do not account for the actual purpose of the appliance"

Right, and it still strikes me as amusing. But I didn't intend to impugn the research or the guys who did it, and think it is really terrific that this has been studied, and the info disseminated.

I've noticed many times: vent hoods get no respect. Many of us underestimate the installed costs, feel baffled (tee hee, I'm punny today) by the choices, and generally would rather spend our shopping time and money elsewhere. We all know people who don't use venting at all - but I don't know anyone without a range or fridge and very few people without microwaves. Most people start (and end) their hood search with aesthetic concerns, then noise, and few consider exhaust performance. So I really shouldn't have mocked the energy star priority - because consumer priorities aren't well aligned, either!

I think this is an important topic, because as much as I've worked to make my home safe and comfortable for my family I've never considered this health issue. And I'm pretty into health issues: we drink purified water, put dust mite cases on bedding, avoid fumes from paint and furniture, and eat mostly whole foods. Car seats, bicycle helmets, pool fences, fire extinguishers, CO detectors, and security systems are de rigueur in my neighborhood - but not venting hoods.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 9:37PM
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" Car seats, bicycle helmets, pool fences, fire extinguishers, CO detectors, and security systems are de rigueur in my neighborhood - but not venting hoods."

You best take a "Proactive Approach" in your neighborhood, kksmama, Your don't want to be living in a "Ghost Town", do ya?


    Bookmark   July 25, 2013 at 9:49PM
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According to this, I should have been dead 30 years ago...
And get this, "they" are trying to outlaw and get rid of the fire ring pits on the beach in my community...

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 12:06AM
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>>>"get rid of the fire ring pits on the beach in my community..."Air quality rules from the South Coast AQMD? Or Newport/Laguna Beach property owners trying to keep riff-raff off the beach in the evenings? Both? Without even researching it, I'll bet that is one contentious issue!

To move this a bit closer back to the topic, does the SCAQMD have anything to say about venting residential kitchen fumes to outdoors? Last time I was in LA -- okay, it was decades ago :>) -- they were talking catalytic converters, charcoal filters and chimney scrubbers for external venting for under-fired broilers and wood fired pizza ovens in restaurants. (Lots of them in LA, so I would imagine they could potentially be an air quality issue at some seasons of the year.)

Is there talk of something similar for externally venting home range hoods, now?

This post was edited by JWVideo on Fri, Jul 26, 13 at 18:35

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 6:31PM
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Ah, I can see it now -- instead of a monster in-line silencer in my attic, there is a monster in-line catalytic converter. And a monster electrical bill to keep it hot so it will work on the cooking effluent.

The energy star alternative -- intense UV light -- would create too much ozone.

ka (had to give up one letter to the Government to redistribute)

    Bookmark   July 26, 2013 at 6:42PM
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No one in my family as far back as my grandmothers had any hood in their kitchen. The heat was sometimes unbearable during summertime when one was reducing tomatoes in 8 gallon pots or doing other preserving stuff that implies cooking, but hey, it was just a couple of days a year. In the winter we did like the warmth and the aromas of whatever was cooking dispersing through the house. A hood was just not a part of the cooking culture back in my country.

Three months ago, I finally caved in and installed a Kobe RA2 hood over my range. I'm still in shock over how incredibly useful a hood is. I now consider that the most important two appliances in the whole kitchen are the range and the hood, way ahead of the fridge/freezer, oven or anything else. What gave me the hint of what a good hood is capable of was dining at a nice restaurant, 5 feet away from the grill on which my salmon was being prepared; no fish smell whatsoever was coming our way - that was something I definitely wanted at home.

I'm convinced I spent all these years in the dark, but now I've seen the light and it's coming from my hood :-)

    Bookmark   July 27, 2013 at 2:20AM
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Good post, gigelus2k13. I hope I enjoy mine and forget about the hassle and expense.

"No one in my family as far back as my grandmothers" (that could be an interesting thread all on its own)......
.... used car seats for children until my son was born in 1993. And there was a time when the family's toilets flowed right into one of the great lakes (no septic, no sewer). It used to be normal for people to smoke in public places and in non-smokers' private homes.

When we know better, we do better.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2013 at 6:31AM
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In my next life, kas will be my husband.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2013 at 10:57AM
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So if we believe this, our lives will be shortened indoors from cooking fumes and outdoors from methane due to bovine flatulence (a now infamous lead story in the NYT Living section some years back). Charming.

How fortunate we are to have the paper of record to tell us such things. In California, no doubt some legislator will use the article to push a bill demanding a vent hood in every kitchen in addition to the mandated fluorescent lights.

    Bookmark   August 10, 2013 at 2:08PM
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Fori is not pleased

I knew frying up habaneros without ventilation messed up everyone's lungs but hadn't really thought about normal stuff. I have an asthmatic/allergy-inclined kid (not a new-fangled every-kid-has-asthma-now asthmatic but a 5th generation bad genes asthmatic) who would probably be more comfortable with proper ventilation.

So now I have to remodel for the health of my child!


    Bookmark   August 10, 2013 at 2:15PM
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Sometimes things are true whether you believe them or not. My dad didn't "believe" in sunscreen years ago, and I don't know that multiple skin cancer surgeries have changed his thinking.

Sometimes legislatures pass laws that benefit the majority of people. If you want to know what Pittsburgh was like before environmental regulation, China would be a good place to visit. (10/14 edited link)

New information is always met with skepticism, and regulation always should be. But skepticism didn't make asbestos or radon less dangerous. Let us mommas feel better about spending money on ventilation by believing it is better for our children, it probably is.

Here is a link that might be useful: Pittsburgh without regulation

This post was edited by kksmama on Tue, Oct 7, 14 at 11:20

    Bookmark   August 10, 2013 at 4:35PM
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