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COVD19 and Natural Gas Appliances

Peter L | Posted in General Questions on

Interesting article on natural gas appliances and COVID19 and how natural gas appliances are contributing to deaths and respiratory illness:

https://undark.org/2020/12/02/hazards-of-gas-appliances-draw-new-scrutiny/

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Replies

  1. Walter Ahlgrim | | #1

    Looks to me like a case people with an agenda massaged the numbers to support their predetermined opinion.

    My guess is if limited the study to homes 2x above poverty level you could no longer find and gas affect in the numbers.

    Walta

  2. Peter L | | #2

    Walter,

    Can you give an example of how this study was biased?

  3. Expert Member
    Zephyr7 | | #3

    They don't appear to control all the variables. They also have groups running these studies that have an agenda, which doesn't necassarily mean the data is incorrect, but certainly makes things suspect.

    It's easy to show how failing to control all the variables in an expieriment van result in meaningless connections to unrelated things. I did a quick search and find that in 2018, 846 people were killed while running red lights. This is from the IIHS, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. The world bank shows the US per capita income for 2018 as $62,840.02. Those are both reputable data sources as I think most would agree. Now let's use that data to come up with some erroneous conclusions by neglecting to control all the variables...

    These 846 people were all killed while traffic lights were red. From this we can conclude that the red light was involved in their deaths. The loss of these 846 people cost the economy $53,162.656.92 in lost productivity. Since that loss was due to red lights, we should advovate for red lights to be made blue since those 846 deaths could have been attributed to the use of red lights at intersections. The use of blue lights in intersections would save the economy over $53 million! (normally that last bit would be shown as an average over several years)

    Is this a bit absurd? Yep, sure is! But you frequently see things like this in supposedly "good" studies. The data comes from good sources, but they don't give you all of it, or the data was collected for a different purpose so certain things were not relevant to the original study thus making the data unuseable for the purposes of the subsequent study. In my goofy example, red lights certainly WERE present at these crash sites, and in a small way were involved, but they certainly weren't the CAUSE of the crash or fatality, someone driving through them while there was opposing traffic was. The reason to use such an absurd example is to make this point obvious.

    The study involving gas burning appliances is much more complex. Home inspectors will tell you that older homes are more prone to issues with leaky vent piping since this material tends to degrade with time and is not something homeowners typically think about. There are also lots of DIY issues when this isn't done correctly (I just replaced some single wall vent pipe in an unconditioned crawlspace that should have been double walled B-vent per code, but was not, for example, and the resulting condensate was making a puddle on the crawlspace liner which is how the problem was found). In these older homes, was the issue a gas cooktop, or equipment way past it's useful life? Were these homes in an area with some other issue? Many low-income communities are in or near industrial areas, where air quality may well be lower, and it's not that industry is "doing that" to those people, it's that the reason those areas are cheap to buy into is because they aren't desireable due to the presence of the industrial base there.

    In the case of California, are they really accomplishing anything in SF making it even MORE expensive for people to live there? Don't they have a housing shortage already, especially housing affordable for lower income families? Keep in mind also that induction stoves tend to have relatively short lives of a few years or so before they need to be replaced, where gas cooktops tend to last a decade or more (note that this is entirely solveable -- there is no reason why an induction cooktop can't be designed to last longer). That added, ongoing, lifecycle replacement cost is going to make it even harder on those low-income families.

    So now we're into the issue of an attempt to ban gas appliances making a housing crisis worse. This stuff can get complicated! Gas IS a lot cleaner/safer than wood and coal were (mentioned in that article). Although I haven't looked into it, my guess is that more people are killed each year by faulty electrical devices than faulty gas devices as well so electric devices are not without their own risks.

    Trying to link gas cooking to COVID deaths in children is iffy too. The CDC says 121 children died due to COVID between Feb 12 and July 31 of this year. Let's assume "children" here means under 18 years old. My quick data search says just shy of 74 million people in the US are 17 or younger. That means 0.00000164% of those "children" died from COVID in that time frame. For 2016, the CDC says 9,280 "children" under the age of 14 died from various reasons. that means that 121 COVID deaths would be (extrapolating a bit for the variation in time periods), about a 2.6% increase in deaths due to COVID alone -- everything else being equal.

    There isn't enough data there to make a statistically significant link between COVID risk and natural gas, or likely most other things outside of specific medical issues with the specific children who died due to COVID. You need a MUCH bigger sample to link things to something like NO2 emissions.

    Basically ALWAYS be suspicious of claimed cost savings from extrapolated things like "if we didn't have x emission, we'd have y cost savings". These kinds of numbers get messed with all the time. It's easy to pull data from reputable sites using Google (I did it a bunch of times just now for this post), but you lose the context of the original presentation of that data, so you can't draw meaninful conclusions -- especially with completly unrelated studies that may have had very different goals resulting in very different expierimental setups. It's easy to manipulate this data to get a predetermined outcome, and that doesn't help anyone. Science should be devoid of politics in order to get reliable, and accurate, conclusions, but unfortunately that has become much less common as of late.

    Bill

  4. Walter Ahlgrim | | #4

    Peter I did not analyze the article closely but the look and feel screams I have an agenda.

    When I glance at the other stories on the site they are all Chicken Little stories proclaiming how the sky is falling.

    Walta

  5. PBP1 | | #5

    It's an agenda piece: "As homeowners and landlords increasingly switch to electric alternatives for space heating and heating water, keeping the gas line to a building just to supply a stove will become too expensive to justify."

    These "think tanks" are hardly that, they're paid-for by industry (certain industries).

    The sky is falling tone and foretelling of dire straits . . . how about keeping people from freezing when an ice storm takes out your electricity? They never have an answer for that. Survival comes first, and care of the investment in a home, has the writer ever seen a home that had 1 million gallons of water run through it from frozen pipes? Where foundation walls collapsed? Dual fuel options exist for a reason, but if we all moved to the California coast, well then ;-)

    The author's bio:
    I’m a former Middlebury Fellow in Environmental Journalism, a graduate of UC Berkeley’s Energy and Resources Group, and an occasional adjunct instructor at the Zanskar Ski School, the first backcountry ski school in the Himalaya. I mostly subsist on yoghurt and maple syrup.

    Sounds to me like a trust fund kid, the working class (that he cares so deeply about) don't have time/money to learn to ski. I am amazed at what passes for an "environmentalist" these days . . . . Give me Aldo Leopold any day.

    1. Expert Member
      Zephyr7 | | #6

      They are also usually pretty big on "someone else" paying the bill for things. In many/most cases, the electric alternative is significantly more expensive.

      As an EE, I have serious doubts about the ability of the current electric utility infrastructure to handle a massive shift towards electricity for space conditioning (heating). I don't think there is sufficient excess capacity for a large-scale shift away from natural gas, and it takes years to bring new capacity online.

      Bill

      1. PBP1 | | #7

        Agreed, have a PhD in ChE, worked in industry and then went into law (where I know people that run some of these "think tanks").

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