As physicians, we care for the community in which we live.
We take an oath to do no harm. We work long hours, talk with our patients, examine and assess the aches, pains and illnesses that are part and parcel of life.
This is why the climate crisis is so troubling. Floods, storms, wildfires, extreme temperatures, and the pollution of our air and water aggravate ordinary health problems, making our healing work harder to do.
The Washington Chapter of Physicians for Social Responsibility (WPSR) recently published a report linking the climate crisis and health, stating that “the main contributor to climate change – the burning of fossil fuels – is also a major source of air pollution… The various air pollutants – in particular particulates, oxides nitrogen and ozone – cause considerable damage disease and death.
This air pollution is not just outside. The natural gas (methane) we burn in our heaters and stoves at home emits dangerous pollutants, including carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, particulate matter and formaldehyde, which worsen diseases like asthma, cancer, stroke, heart disease and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.
In fact, a single hour of cooking on a gas stove produces levels of nitrogen dioxide pollution that would be illegal if outdoors.
In our practice, we find that indoor air pollution disproportionately harms children due to their developing lungs with narrow airways and smaller body sizes. Tragically, children living in homes with gas stoves are 42% more likely to develop asthma. And as the WPSR report states, “pregnant women, the elderly, communities of color, those with chronic conditions and allergies, and the poor” are also at serious risk.
Fortunately, the Washington State Building Code Council (SBCC) is considering requiring new homes to install heat pumps that provide both heat and cooling in hotter summers and run on generated electricity. clean way instead of polluting gas. New building codes would also require better ventilation for homes built with gas stoves, prompting homebuilders to install zero-emission electric induction stoves instead.
This switch will not only eliminate toxic pollution, but also save you money! Building a new all-electric home saves residents $1,000 a year, factoring in both upfront equipment cost savings and energy bill savings.
Air pollution might not seem like a problem in our beautiful valley where we pride ourselves on our hops, orchards and outdoor activities like mountain biking. Yet the choking smoke from wildfires that seeps in so often reminds us all of the threat to health from climate change and its impact on crops such as our wine grapes.
There’s nothing “natural” about leaking gas from stoves and pipes in people’s homes, which researchers recently found contained at least 21 toxins, including ethylbenzene, xylene, toluene and benzene. That’s why, as physicians, we wholeheartedly support public policies aimed at making our homes healthier.
When the SBCC holds a public hearing in Yakima this Wednesday, September 29, we’ll be there to testify in favor of making Washington’s home building codes the cleanest in the nation. We cannot forget the damage literally inside our homes.
Let’s cure climate change by turning off the gas.
Drs. Sara Cate and Russell Maier are family physicians who have provided care in Yakima for nearly 30 years. Dr. Cate teaches at CHCW-Ellensburg and Dr. Maier is associate dean at the Pacific Northwest University of Health Sciences College of Medicine. Contact Dr. Cate at [email protected] or Dr. Maier at [email protected]