Are you cooking up a health hazard in the kitchen?

Making dinner could turn your kitchen into a health hazard.

Numerous studies are showing that cooking can cause air pollution in your kitchen, some of the same stuff that is in smog.

One study even shows that cooking can cause emission levels in your kitchen that would exceed acceptable limits for air quality outside your house. You would not necessarily be able to see it, because some of the substances are colorless and odorless.

Dr. Gopal Allada, pulmonologist at Oregon Health and Science University, said long-term exposure can contribute to problems with diseases like emphysema, pneumonia and asthma.

"There's a laundry list of things that are potentially harmful to lungs and even cardiovascular risk factors," said Dr. Allada. "So heart disease can be aggravated potentially as well."

Gas-burning stoves are particularly troublesome for emitting potential indoor air pollution, said Dr. Allada. The combustion can emit nitrogen dioxide, among other substances. But studies show electric stoves can create fine particulate pollution as well. And heating cooking oils, such as a frying a steak, can also add to the "smog" in your kitchen.

Dr. Allada cites numbers from the World Health Organization, showing more than one million people die from kitchen air pollution every year, mostly women and children, and mostly in developing countries where kitchens may not be well-ventilated.

"These are 100 percent preventable deaths," said Dr. Allada.

In the United States, homes may be built with the idea of sealing out air to save on heating costs. But Dr. Allada said that can contribute to problems with kitchen smog.

The solution?

  • Start by turning on the fan in the kitchen when you cook, and turn it to the highest setting possible.
  • If your range hood does not cover the front burners, move your pots and pans to the back burners to cook.
  • Check to make sure the fan over your stove vents to the outside, not back into your kitchen, or you could recirculate the pollution.
  • If you do not have a fan, or if your fan vents back into your house, open a window.
  • Make sure your gas appliances are adjusted properly. For example, an orange flame on your gas burner could mean improper adjustment. NW Natural says the flame should be blue. You can contact NW Natural for a gas free appliance inspection every year.

Dr. Allada said he hopes people will pay attention to this issue and take steps to clear the air in their kitchens, even if they think that they've been cooking for years without problems and should not have to worry about it now.

"I think it's been an issue all along and we don't know how much it has done. It might be hidden damage," said Dr. Allada. "Over the long haul, you're probably going to be living a healthier life if you can do that."

Additional list of tips from NW Natural:

  • Make sure your gas range, oven or cooktop has been design certified and meets requirements for proper operation and limits on emissions.
  • Make sure it's installed to code.
  • Keep your gas range maintained and inspected by a qualified contractor.
  • Consider installing a vented exhaust fan for all electric and natural gas ranges, cooktops and ovens to eliminate the normal byproducts of cooking such as steam, smoke, grease and heat.
  • Indoor gas grills should have an exhaust system.
  • Never use your gas cooking appliance for domestic space heating.
  • Never cover the inside bottom of your oven with aluminum foil.

Additional information on cooking pollution: Residential Cooking Exposure Study Final Report.