We came across the following claim on a popular Singapore-based Telegram channel. The original article appears to have been posted on the website NaturalNews.com.
The article makes the following two core allegations:
- that ‘fake science from (the) White House claims gas stoves cause brain damage’
- that high-voltage power lines are ‘possibly carcinogenic’ and therefore insinuating that connected appliances such as electric stoves cause cancer
Smells Like Health Problems
When we investigated the details of the article, we found that the allegation of the White House’s claim of gas stoves causing brain damage referenced a tweet by the Democratic House Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ocasio-Cortez, who tweeted that ‘ongoing exposure to NO2 from gas stoves is linked to reduced cognitive performance’.
In a follow-up tweet, Ocasio-Cortez linked to a Vox article titled ‘Gas stoves can generate unsafe levels of indoor air pollution’. The article informs that gas cooking produces high levels of pollutants, including nitrogen oxide (NO), nitrogen dioxide (NO2), carbon monoxide (CO) and formaldehyde (HCHO). It also suggests that gas cooking produces about twice as much PM2.5 (particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter) as electric cooking.
The article references several studies indicating a number of health issues that could result from the presence of this pollutants, including cardiovascular problems, respiratory illnesses, diabetes, premature mortality, poorer birth outcomes and cancer. In addition, it cited a 2009 study which found that ‘early-life exposure to air pollution from indoor gas appliances may be negatively associated with neuropsychological development through the first 4 years of life, particularly among genetically susceptible children’. These effects were associated with inhibited cognitive function.
While these adverse neurological effects do not exclusively affect children, those 4 and younger suffer the worst by far of these effects, as 90% of the brain’s development occurs by age 5. It is also important to note that the inhibited neurodevelopment is not analogous to brain damage, a term which describes the disruption of normal brain function caused by traumatic injuries or non-traumatic illnesses and conditions, such as strokes or tumours.
A Sarcastic Response Mischaracterised
It is possible that Ocasio-Cortez’s tweet specifically mentions reduced cognitive performance over the other health risks of exposure to NO2 as an expression of sarcasm. This may have been an articulation of derision towards the statement of the Republican House Representative Ronny Jackson, which she was replying to. Jackson had tweeted that if the White House came for his gas stove, they would have to ‘pry it from [his] cold dead hands’. Ocasio-Cortez has used tongue-in-cheek humour to respond to her political opponents on several occasions previously.
The two House representatives were discussing the issue in response to news that the US Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) was considering a ban on new gas stoves as it was a ‘hidden hazard’ to health, but was inviting public feedback before deciding on the course of action. The White House, however, indicated that it was not in favour of a ban on gas stoves.
It is therefore true that the use of gas stoves can contribute to reduced cognitive performance as a result of inhibited neurodevelopment, in addition to a multiplicity of other adverse health effects. However, it may not be accurate to equate this to brain damage.
Another Shocking Argument
The Natural News article asserts that electric stoves are ‘far worse’ than gas stoves. They quote the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) as saying that ‘the extremely low frequency (ELF) magnetic fields released by high-voltage power lines are “possibly carcinogenic to humans”’.
When we visited the linked source, we found that it led to a page discussing electromagnetic fields and cancer on the website of the National Cancer Institute (NCI), which describes itself as the leading federal agency for cancer research in the US.
We did find the quote attributed to the IARC by Natural News on the NCI webpage. In 2002, an IARC working group, review available evidence on the matter, found that extremely low frequency electromagnetic fields (ELF-EMFs) were possibly carcinogenic to humans based on limited evidence from human studies in relation to childhood leukemia.
However, the NCI page also adds that ‘no mechanism by which ELF-EMFs… could cause cancer has been identified’. It also says that ‘no consistent evidence for an association between any source of non-ionizing (low frequency) EMF and cancer has been found (in children)’. In adults, it points out that ‘the majority of epidemiologic studies have shown no relationship between breast cancer in women and exposure to (ELF-EMFs) in the home’.
Furthermore, the NCI points out that though magnetic fields near many electrical appliances are higher than those near power lines, ‘appliances contribute less to a person’s total exposure to magnetic fields because most appliances are used for only short periods of time’, and ‘moving even a short distance from most electrical appliances reduces exposure dramatically’. It adds that ‘studies have not found consistent evidence for an association between the use of household electrical appliances and risk of childhood leukemia’.
We find that the evidence for ELF-EMFs produced by electric stoves (or other appliances) causing cancer is neither consistent nor conclusive, and Natural News is likely to have cherry-picked the evidence in the article to make its claims. As such, we rate the claim that electric stoves cause cancer as false.