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New Report Helps Households Reduce Harmful Pollutants From Cooking

May 2021

(Washington, D.C.): Over a year into the pandemic, many households have stepped up their cooking game—be it for practical purposes or simply for fun. And while home cooking is often the healthier choice, might it lead to a hidden danger? A new report from the Environmental Law Institute, Reducing Exposure to Cooking Pollutants: Policies and Practices to Improve Air Quality in Homes, provides states, local governments, and tribes with information they can use to help people in their communities protect themselves from being exposed to particulate matter, nitrogen dioxide, and other harmful pollutants inside their homes.

“Any type of cooking—from boiling water to frying food—will generate some amount of cooking pollution,” said ELI Staff Attorney Amy Reed, lead author of the report. “Fortunately, proper ventilation practices, which can remove those harmful cooking pollutants, are well established and readily available.”

The report recommends jurisdictions update their residential building codes to mandate kitchen ventilation in all new residential construction. In addition, jurisdictions should establish minimum ventilation performance standards to ensure that the exhaust system can remove a sufficient share of the pollutants emitted during cooking immediately after they are emitted. The report also recommends that green building policies include kitchen ventilation best practices to protect residents from unhealthy levels of pollutants.

Of course, reducing cooking pollutant exposure in existing homes is no less important than in new construction. The report recommends jurisdictions implement their housing maintenance codes to address inadequate kitchen ventilation in rental housing. Equally important, the report highlights a number of financial and material assistance programs that can help lower-income households improve their kitchen ventilation.

“Strengthening building codes and other policies that set standards for residential construction, renovation, and maintenance will go a long way toward protecting people from indoor air risks and will fill a glaring hole that persists in most jurisdictions,” commented Reed. “But perhaps as important is the need to increase public awareness—of both the health risks from cooking pollutants and the solutions that are available—as many people are not aware of these risks or of the ventilation practices and cooking practices that can significantly reduce exposure.”

The report is available for free download at: https://www.eli.org/research-report/reducing-exposure-cooking-pollutants-policies-and-practices-improve-air-quality-homes.

Amy Reed is available for interview.