Beware of the Stir Fry
If someone asked me to list the causes of air pollution, I’d name things like car exhaust and factory emissions. I certainly wouldn’t blame the stir-fry I’m making for dinner tonight, but after reading a recent New York Times article by Peter Andrey Smith, I’m going to give that stir-fry a second look.
In “The Kitchen as a Pollution Hazard” (NYT, July 22, 2013), Smith identifies cooking as the leading cause of indoor air pollution.
Indoor air pollution? Cooking? Is something wrong with Grandma’s apple pie?
No, baking an apple pie isn’t the culprit, but frying, grilling and toasting are. When oil is heated, it releases toxic gases, such as nitrogen dioxide and carbon monoxide. It also releases acrolein, a chemical actually used to make grenades during World War I.
It turns out that indoor air pollution has been a concern of the Environmental Protection Agency for some time now. When they conducted a recent study of homes, they found that over 55 percent had dangerous levels of nitrogen dioxide in the air.
The World Health Organization reports that as many as 1.5 million people are killed each year due to indoor air pollution, and most of these people are from low-income families or developing countries. Thankfully, there is a solution: modern stoves that burn cleaner fuels and have properly working range hoods for ventilation. The challenge is to broadcast this information and make sure the underprivileged have access to these updated appliances.
Of course, cooking isn’t the only cause of indoor air pollution-just take a quick look under my bathroom sink. It’s shocking when I stop to think about all the different chemicals I’ve sprayed inside my house in the name of cleaning. I even once made the mistake of spraying ammonia and bleach together. Little did I know that I was producing toxic chloramine fumes. It’s scary how easy it is for us to buy all these different chemicals. We’re no safer than a bunch of kids let loose in a chemistry lab.
The time has come for indoor air quality to be monitored just as much as outdoor air quality. I hope Smith’s article brings attention to this topic and opens the gateway to further communication. Until then, let’s all remember to turn on the vent when cooking a stir-fry!