Gas stove bans made headlines earlier this year, and caused significant uproar. Over concerns about climate change, and air quality, the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission hinted that gas stoves are dangerous and could be banned. Although the Commission later walked those comments back, the debate over gas stoves unfolded, and now New York State has set the table for a gas stove phase out, eliminating these appliances from being built in new residential buildings.
As it stands right now, 3 states, and 26 cities have passed gas stove phase out plans, while 20 states have banned such bans, preemptively stopping cities from creating “all electric” building codes.
But the war over your kitchen appliances doesn’t end with gas stoves.
In fact, Maine, through proposed regulations on PFAS, are taking the debate over appliances to the next level. PFAS are man made chemicals, used in a variety of products like microchips, medical devices, waterproof clothing and non-stick cookware. These chemicals can pose a threat to consumers, depending on the circumstances, with the most famous instance being when Dupont criminally dumped these chemicals into water sources. Maine, in an attempt to limit exposure to PFAS, irrespective of consumer risk, is set to enact a ban on all products which contain intentionally added PFAS by 2030.
Sounds good right? No one wants the products in their homes to be dangerous to our health. It certainly seems like a good idea if all you consider are the headlines, or even worse the rants of late night comedian John Oliver. But, as with everything, the devil is in the details, because as it stands now, most of your appliances in your kitchen would be banned in Maine if nothing changes to the legislation.
Yes, you read that right. Pretty much every appliance you have in your kitchen relies on PFAS in some way shape or form. And ironically, for legislators at least, the use of PFAS in these circumstances are not just better for the environment, but they present no risk for consumer health.
Take refrigerators for example. Modern fridges use HFO (hydrofluoroolefin), which is technically PFAS, and would be subject to the ban in Maine. This is, to put it mildly, a disaster in the making.
The use of HFO for fridges is a huge net benefit for consumer safety and the environment. Historically, refrigeration was only possible by using ammonia and methyl chloride, which are toxic to humans. Understandably that is concerning.
Then, as technology advanced, refrigeration was made possible by the use of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), but those heavily depleted the ozone. Another big problem. That paved the way for HCFCs (hydrochlorofluorocarbons) in the 1990s, which still depleted the ozone, then HFCs (hydrofluorocarbons) but those significantly contributed to global warming. That is where HFO came into use, which not only have no ozone-depleting potential, but they also represent 0.1% of the Global Warming Potential of previously used HFCs. They’re also low in toxicity and generally non-flammable.
This is undeniably an upgrade from the days of ammonia cooling, which if humans are exposed to is toxic, causes severe skin burns, and is toxic to aquatic life.
Now supporters of the ban celebrate this as a win, citing that refrigeration can be done with “natural refrigerants'', i.e. CO2 or ammonia. For ammonia, there are good reasons why industry moved on decades ago, as already mentioned. And for CO2, well that isn’t a net benefit for the environment. Target, for example, compared two models for refrigeration, one using HFCs (which have high global warming potential), and one using CO2, and found that the CO2 fridges used 20% more energy. And for systems that use modern HFOs, they found an average annual decrease in energy consumption of 3% when compared to systems using HFCs. The idea that these refrigerants are viable alternatives to the modern use of HFO’s just doesn’t hold up, certainly not if climate change or consumer safety is a serious priority. Legislators need to avoid falling for a naturalistic fallacy.
But now, if lawmakers in Maine have their way, modern fridges are just not an option anymore, and reverting to older technologies like the ones listed above carry a huge list of potential dangers.
The war over gas stoves was just the beginning. If more states like Maine go rogue creating opaque rules, consumers are in for a world of pain. Everyday items like fridges, or air conditioning units, will have to revert to the dangerous chemicals of distant memory, giving consumers poorer products that are potentially risky.