Unhealthy Indoor Air From Poorly Ventilated Kitchens

October 16, 2019

People use a variety of heat sources to cook food, including gas, wood, and electricity. Each of these heat sources can create indoor air pollution during cooking. Natural gas and propane stoves can release carbon monoxide, formaldehyde and other harmful pollutants into the air, which can be toxic to people and pets. Using a wood stove or fireplace to cook can result in high levels of air pollution from wood smoke, resulting in unhealthy indoor air.

Cooking can also generate unhealthy air pollutants from heating oil, fat and other food ingredients, especially at high temperatures. Self-cleaning ovens, whether gas or electric, can create high levels of pollutants as food waste is burned away. Exposure to these can cause or worsen a wide range of health problems such as nose and throat irritation, headaches, fatigue and nausea. Young children, people with asthma and people with heart or lung disease are especially vulnerable to the harmful effects of indoor air pollution.

Professor Gill Leng, deputy chief executive and director of health and social care at NICE said: 

“Evidence shows that homes with poor air quality are linked to an increase in risk of health problems. Poor ventilation leads to a build-up of pollutants which can exacerbate illnesses such as asthma.”

“Councils are in a good position to raise awareness among the general public. It’s important that local authority departments from social housing to providers of social care work together to identify, prevent and improve poor indoor air quality.”

Dr David Rhodes, director of environmental public health at Public Health England said: 

“Indoor air can be a considerable source of exposure to pollution and these guidelines are a step forward in providing advice to the public, local authorities and the building industry.”  

Alan Maryon-Davis, honorary professor of public health, Kings College London and Chair of the NICE Public Health Advisory Committee said: 

“We are all very aware of the detrimental health effects of outdoor air pollution. But how many of us think about the air quality inside our homes? Many people spend most of their time at home indoors, and the pollutants we create through cooking and cleaning, or those arising from mould or building materials, can all too easily cause or exacerbate respiratory conditions and other health problems.”

“It’s really important to raise awareness of this issue and take steps to reduce indoor air pollutants as much as possible, especially for those who are more vulnerable to health problems aggravated by poor indoor air quality. The guideline has been developed with everyone in mind, from local authorities and healthcare professionals to landlords, architects, builders and members of the public themselves, in a concerted effort to encourage healthier indoor air quality.”

Professor Jonathan Grigg, paediatric respiratory consultant from the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), said:

“Since children spend most of their time indoors, the potential for indoor generated pollutants to cause adverse health effects can no longer be ignored. For some indoor generated air pollutants, such as carbon-containing particulate matter and nitrogen dioxide, toxic effects on children are the same as their outdoor generated counterparts. For other pollutants, such as indoor generated volatile organic compounds, more research into health effects is urgently needed.”

Ways to improve ventilation in your kitchen

If you have a range hood:

  1. Check to make sure it vents to the outdoors.
  2. Use it while cooking or using your stove
  3. Cook on the back burners, if possible, because the range hood exhausts this area more effectively. 

If you don’t have a range hood:

  1. Use a wall or ceiling exhaust fan while cooking.
  2. Open windows and/or exterior doors to improve air flow through the kitchen.

Source(s): NICE National Institution For Health and Care Excellence; Air Resources Board