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People in cities are familiar with the air quality warnings that accompany hot weather. It turns out the air inside your kitchen can sometimes be just as bad. Cooking fumes from your stove are supposed to be captured by a hood over the range, but even some expensive models aren't that effective at cleaning the pollutants.
From member station KQED, Lauren Sommer tells us the scientific community is looking for ways to clean up cooking pollution.
(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)
LAUREN SOMMER, BYLINE: Risotto is on the menu this evening at Jennifer Logue's house in San Francisco.
JENNIFER LOGUE: Like a spicy ground beef and then you add onions and you got the rice, you add the wine - maybe a little for the cook, who knows.
SOMMER: It smells good.
LOGUE: Yeah, I think that's part of the reason that people don't really think about it.
SOMMER: Logue spends a lot of times thinking about what happens when she cooks. She's a research scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Lab, where she studies indoor air pollution.
LOGUE: You know, you spend 70 percent of your time in your home and what you do in your home has a huge impact on what you're exposed to.
SOMMER: Cooking on a gas stove releases some of the same pollutants that you find outdoors in smog. Logue looked at homes in Southern California that cook at least once a week and found that more than half of them were above the outdoor health limit for a pollutant called nitrogen dioxide.
LOGUE: And if you exceeded the standards outdoors, it would be a really big deal. But if you exceed them in your house, I mean, nobody's paying attention.
SOMMER: Homes with electric stoves aren't in the clear because cooking the food itself creates air pollution. Sauteing fats produces a lung irritant called acrolian(ph) and cooking puts off fine particle pollution. Just like smog outdoors, these increase your chances of developing long term respiratory and heart problems. If all this sounds a little scary, Logue says there's a simple solution - a good range hood that vents outside. Unfortunately...
LOGUE: Not all hoods work the same and currently, unfortunately, there's no way for people to really know how effective their range is.
WOODY DELP: Well, we're stir-frying the green beans here.
SOMMER: Inside the test kitchen at Berkeley Lab, Woody Delp and his team are preparing a recipe they've made hundreds of times.
DELP: We measure out the beans the same amount each time.
SOMMER: There are air monitors around the room and inside the range hood. The numbers start to spike as the beans sizzle away in hot oil.
DELP: This hood and this particular flow setting is probably capturing about half of what's coming off, not quite.
SOMMER: Delp says that's the middle of the pack. Some of the hoods he tested are only 15 percent effective. It depends on how powerful the fan is. When you're buying a hood, that's labeled as airflow, but the shape of the hood also makes a big difference, like how far it reaches over the stove.
DELP: This hood, you know, we can see it doesn't cover the front. Some of them are even shallower.
SOMMER: Delp and his team are developing a standardized test, a uniform way to measure hood effectiveness. It's being reviewed by an international testing board, which would allow manufacturers to voluntarily label their hoods.
PEGGY JENKINS: Unfortunately, there's not really a state or federal agency that has comprehensive authority over indoor air pollution.
SOMMER: Peggy Jenkins manages the indoor air quality program at the California Air Resources board. She says there are strict ventilation rules for other gas appliances in homes, like furnaces and hot water heaters. Stoves and range hoods have been largely overlooked.
JENKINS: In a sense, it's low-hanging fruit, but it's not really simple.
SOMMER: Jenkins says there's growing interest in changing California's building codes around range hoods, but it will take a number of state agencies to do it.
LOGUE: Now it's just got to sit for a bit.
SOMMER: Meanwhile, for us home cooks, Jennifer Logue has a few tips as she finishes up her risotto.
LOGUE: I always, always, always use the range hood, even though mine sounds like a jet engine.
SOMMER: Logue says use the highest fan setting and put pots and pans on the back burners. That's where hoods capture the most pollutants. They're simple changes, but effective ones, Logue says. The hard part is remembering them. For NPR News, I'm Lauren Sommer in San Francisco.
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