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Kitchen Pollution: Why You Should Take Steps to Vent Your Cooking Space

Cooking is a chemical process, and should be treated that way.

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Cooking in your kitchen can be a dangerous activity, but not for the reasons you think. Without a properly functioning range hood, cooking on a gas stove can release more pollutants into your kitchen than amounts deemed safe by the Environmental Protection Agency.

Surprised?

Carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, and acrolein are just a few of the nasty pollutants that can be released into your kitchen as a result of improperly vented cooking. In high enough volume, they can cause skin or respiratory irritation (hence, the pimpled fry cook cliché). The effects of long-term exposure are less clear, but are presumably adverse.

But why? How? It’s best to think of cooking for what it fundamentally is: a chemical change. Heat alters the molecular makeup of pretty much anything, meats and vegetables included. So it makes sense that some of the byproducts of these chemical changes would be harmful.

Range hood

Range hoods are an effective method of capturing these pollutants, but they’re not foolproof. According to the New York Times, researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory found the “capture efficiency” among commercially available range hoods varied from 15 to 98 percent.

The news is even worse for owners of gas burners, which release many of the same pollutants found in outdoor smog. NPR reports that one researcher from the Berkeley Lab examined homes in Southern California that are cooked in at least once a week, and found more than half of them exceeded outdoor health limits for nitrogen dioxide.

The reason why these exposures fly under the radar is because the so-called "blame" lies in the hands of private homeowners and not large corporations. Outdoor pollution causes quite a stir because it exposes the public and is thus regulated by agencies like the EPA.

For that reason, it is incumbent on consumers to take the necessary steps to air out their kitchens from time to time. That doesn’t mean you have to invest in a bulky, expensive range hood—it just means you should take a few precautions. After all, you shouldn’t have to give up cooking.

Here are a few tips from NPR to limit your kitchen pollution:

  • If you have a fan, use it. Always.
  • Routinely clean the stove surface, making sure to scrub away grease stains.
  • Open windows even when you’re not cooking.

[Range photo: Wikipedia Commons, Iain Fergusson]

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