Warning labels for gas stoves? A lawsuit is trying to make it happen.

By Niina H. Farah | 06/11/2024 06:56 AM EDT

For the first time, gas critics are going to court to push stove manufacturers to warn customers about the appliances’ health impacts.

Photo collage of a hand with a gavel about to hit a gas stove and another hand punching the stove

A first-of-its kind lawsuit asks a D.C. court to warn customers about the public health impacts of gas stoves. Illustration by Claudine Hellmuth/POLITICO (source images via iStock)

A first-of-its-kind lawsuit is testing whether the District of Columbia’s consumer protection law could be used to require gas stove manufacturers to warn customers of the risks of burning gas indoors.

The U.S. Public Interest Research Group Education Fund has filed a lawsuit claiming that GE Appliances failed to notify consumers that normal operation of their stoves could lead to elevated exposure to air pollutants like nitrogen dioxide, which can trigger or exacerbate asthma.

“Gas stoves can be harmful to our health when used as directed, but this crucial information is not broadly available to the public,” said Abe Scarr, energy and utilities program director at the U.S. PIRG Education Fund, in a statement.


The legal challenge in D.C. Superior Court is the first time that opponents of gas stoves have asked a judge to require warning labels on the appliances, which are used in about 40 percent of American homes. State lawmakers are also considering the question.

Lawsuits alleging a failure to warn of a product’s risks have also been used in other contexts like pesticide labeling, as well as challenges brought by cities and states to get fossil fuel companies to pay for climate impacts.

The gas stoves case is much more straightforward than recent climate liability lawsuits that rely on a similar theory, said Michael Gerrard, faculty director of the Sabin Center for Climate Change Law at Columbia University.

“The major objective of the cases by states and cities against the fossil fuel companies is to put pressure on companies to reduce their social license,” he said. “Whereas this case might help persuade some consumers to buy electric stoves rather than gas stoves. It’s a much more direct impact.”

In its case, U.S. PIRG claimed Haier U.S. Appliance Solutions, doing business as GE Appliances, violated protections against deceptive trade practices under the D.C. Consumer Protection Procedures Act.

But rather than looking for a payout, the public interest group is asking the company to clearly inform its customers of the potential risks of pollution from stoves that can either cause or worsen asthma.

To back up their claim, U.S. PIRG conducted its own research analyzing emissions from GE stoves, which found that normal operation of the appliances led to nitrogen dioxide levels that exceeded EPA health standards for outdoor air. The agency does not regulate indoor air quality, but the pollution levels also exceed indoor air health guidelines set by the World Health Organization.

The public interest group also said the owner’s manuals for two models of GE stoves at the center of the lawsuit did not mention air pollution as a potential risk of the product and did not mention ways to reduce risk, such as using a vent hood or opening windows while cooking.

Haier did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuit. The gas industry has been critical of the case.

“Labeling gas stoves is probably going to fall flat,” said Frank Maisano, a spokesperson for the firm Bracewell, which represents clients in the gas sector.

The impacts of gas stoves on indoor air pollution have been “widely exaggerated,” as a lot of factors affect indoor air quality, Maisano said.

“It comes down to a consumer choice issue,” he said. “A lot of consumers choose [gas] because of performance, cost and efficiency.”

Class-action lawsuits

While the D.C. Superior Court lawsuit is the only known case seeking warning labels on gas stoves, there have been about a half-dozen other legal challenges related to the risks of the appliances — and gas more generally.

To date, most of the legal opposition to gas stoves has come in the form of class-action lawsuits in which customers who purchased the appliances are seeking compensation for the “defect” of air pollution that manufacturers allegedly did not clearly disclose.

They claim they would not have purchased the stoves — or would not have paid as much for them — if they had been made aware of the risks.

Companies have countered that the class-action suits are preempted by the federal Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which underpins a federal program for setting efficiency targets, labeling and test procedures for consumer products. A handful of those cases are still pending in federal court.

One new class-action lawsuit filed May 31 in a Massachusetts state court accuses the Boston-based utility Eversource Energy for misleading customers and advertising gas as “clean” and “safe.”

Eversource customers who brought the case are asking the Suffolk Superior Court to award them damages.

Eversource Energy spokesperson Tricia Modifica said in an emailed statement that the company believes the claims “lack legal or factual merit.”

“Our customers’ energy needs are diverse, and it’s important that the clean energy transition provides access to safe, reliable and affordable energy for everyone,” Modifica wrote.

“While our region continues to rely on natural gas today for electric generation as well as heating and cooking,” she continued, “this does not hinder our focus on bringing more new clean energy solutions online and making the necessary infrastructure upgrades to support decarbonization and electrification as quickly as possible.”

Scarr acknowledged that there are limitations to the type of suit U.S. PIRG filed in D.C., since it “doesn’t ultimately solve all the problems.”

“But, especially with this issue, we think having incremental policies is appropriate,” Scarr said.

In the last couple of years, with more community education, people are starting to understand the risks of gas stoves, he said. That learning process will continue to take some time.

“As a starting point, warning labels will help build support and public understanding,” Scarr said.

A political fight

The conflict over gas stoves has reached the courtroom in the midst of a fierce political divide over how to transition away from fossil fuels in order to address rising global temperatures.

Numerous studies have shown gas stove use increases indoor air pollutants to levels that can worsen asthma and other respiratory conditions. Meanwhile, Republican lawmakers, along with some Democrats, have fought against regulating gas stove emissions on a federal level at both the Consumer Product Safety Commission and the Department of Energy.

U.S. PIRG has supported the power of both agencies to set standards for gas stoves, but right now the politics make change at the federal level challenging, said Scarr.

“We need to give a bit more time, frankly, for us to change the political dynamics … to demonstrate there is some support for science and fact-based regulation of a harmful product,” Scarr said.

Last year, House Republicans, joined by more than two dozen Democrats, passed H.R. 1615, the “Gas Stove Protection and Freedom Act,” which would have prevented the CPSC from regulating gas stoves as a “banned hazardous product.”

The bill would have also prevented the CPSC from issuing a safety standard that would prohibit the use or sale of gas stoves or that would even substantially increase the price of the appliances. The bill also called for preventing the CPSC from making a product unavailable “based on the kind of fuel it consumes.”

The Senate version of the bill, S. 240, was introduced by Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz and then-Democratic West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, now an independent, but died in committee. At the time, Cruz warned against “radical environmentalists” who want to stop the use of natural gas.

House Republicans and some Democrats also signaled their opposition against efforts by DOE to tighten efficiency standards for gas stoves, voting to block new rulemaking in favor of H.R. 1640, “Save Our Gas Stoves Act.” That legislation also failed in the Senate.

For its part, the CPSC has not taken steps to bar any gas stove use due to air pollution, a year after it requested public comment on the appliances’ pollution risks.

A spokesperson for the commission said there was nothing in the CPSC fiscal 2024 operating plan related to gas stoves.

“No regulatory action is planned, and any such action would require a vote by the full Commission, which has not expressed support for any regulation,” wrote CPSC press secretary Patty Davis in an email.

Meanwhile, DOE finalized stronger efficiency standards for gas stoves in January — but stopped well short of its earlier proposal that would have blocked about half of gas stoves from going to market.

The new rules came after appliance manufacturers and environmental groups reached a compromise for implementing multiple efficiency standards, including for gas stoves.

State labels

Without federal protections against gas stove pollution, consumer advocates are also pushing some states to pass legislation requiring warning labels.

Last month, the California State Assembly passed A.B. 2513, which would require gas stoves sold in the state to bear a label outlining the health risks of air pollution from gas stoves. The bill is now before the state Senate.

Robert Jackson, a professor at Stanford University’s Doerr School of Sustainability, who has testified in support of the California labeling bill, said the proposed law appropriately warns about the health risks of nitrogen oxides, benzene and carbon monoxide emissions from gas stoves.

The bill doesn’t mean someone is going to take gas stoves out of peoples’ homes, he said: “It doesn’t force someone to change, it just provides information.”

Maisano described the proposed California label as another one of the state’s “absurd” provisions.

“It’s not the first time that California has gone over the edge,” he said. “I don’t know that it will have a national impact other than as a feel-good message for the state of California.”

Similar legislative efforts stalled in Illinois last year. The General Assembly considered H.B. 3572, which would have amended the state’s Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act to prevent the sale of any gas stove manufactured after Jan. 1, 2024, without a warning label. The bill was referred to the Rules Committee last May but did not progress further.

It’s unclear how passage of a California labeling law for gas stoves could have broader impacts across the country, but if more states follow suit, appliance manufacturers could face a similar situation to pesticide companies.

“Different states were requiring different labels on pesticides, which was driving the manufacturers crazy,” said the Sabin Center’s Gerrard.

Congress eventually stepped in to give EPA the sole authority to set labels for pesticides to create a uniform standard.

“Sometimes these regulations can have a national impact like that,” Gerrard said.

Scientists’ understanding of the risks of indoor air pollution is also becoming more sophisticated, Jackson said.

“We’re moving from, ‘How much pollution do these stoves emit?’ to, ‘how far it travels, and when people actually breathe it,'” he said.

Jackson co-authored a recent study published in the journal Science Advances that found that in some homes, dangerous concentrations of air pollutants could reach bedrooms within a half-hour of a stove being on. The pollution lingers for hours after cooking is done.

Factors like whether a stove vents outdoors, or how small a home is, and how much time the stove is on a day-to-day basis can all affect indoor air pollution exposure, Jackson said.

“As we continue to make our air outside cleaner, indoor pollution will make up a higher proportion of the pollution we breathe. I think that point is not well understood,” Jackson said. “We need to pay more attention to sources of pollution from inside our homes.”