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A girl cooks on a natural gas stove. Jason Todd / Photodisc / Getty Images

A new study from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that the natural gas piped into homes for cooking and heating actually contains toxic volatile organic compounds, including chemicals linked to cancer.

Research from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard (C-CHANGE) in collaboration with PSE Healthy Energy, Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), Gas Safety Inc., Boston University and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), collected more than 200 unburned natural gas samples from 69 different kitchen stoves and building pipelines around Greater Boston from December 2019 to May 2021.

A new study from the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health has found that the natural gas piped into homes for cooking and heating actually contains toxic volatile organic compounds, including chemicals linked to cancer.

Research from the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard (C-CHANGE) in collaboration with PSE Healthy Energy, Atmospheric and Environmental Research (AER), Gas Safety Inc., Boston University and Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), collected more than 200 unburned natural gas samples from 69 different kitchen stoves and building pipelines around Greater Boston from December 2019 to May 2021.

In the samples, the team found 296 chemical compounds, and 21 of these compounds are federally considered to be hazardous air pollutants, including benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, and hexane. While the concentration of chemicals varied by location and time of year, the study generally found the highest concentrations of pollutants in the winter.

“It is well-established that natural gas is a major source of methane that’s driving climate change,” Drew Michanowicz, visiting scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE and senior scientist at PSE Healthy Energy, said in a statement. “But most people haven’t really considered that our homes are where the pipeline ends and that when natural gas leaks it can contain health-damaging air pollutants in addition to climate pollutants.”

The study, recently published in the journal Environmental Science & Technology, also measured odorants in consumer-grade natural gas. These odorants give gas its well-known smell that alerts people to a leak. But the researchers found that with gas leaks 10 times higher than naturally occurring levels, there may not be enough odorant for people to detect the leak. These leaks can make both indoor and outdoor air contaminated with hazardous chemicals.

“This study shows that gas appliances like stoves and ovens can be a source of hazardous chemicals in our homes even when we’re not using them. These same chemicals are also likely to be present in leaking gas distribution systems in cities and up the supply chain,” said Jonathan Buonocore, co-author and research scientist at Harvard Chan C-CHANGE. “Policymakers and utilities can better educate consumers about how natural gas is distributed to homes and the potential health risks of leaking gas appliances and leaking gas pipes under streets, and make alternatives more accessible.”

More and more cities are already banning natural gas hookups in homes, and the researchers shared some actions for individuals and lawmakers to take to further reduce exposure to harmful pollutants coming from natural gas pipelines.

Among the policy recommendations, the team noted that both gas pipeline companies and utility companies need to measure, report and monitor natural gas composition, including odorant content. According to the scientists, there should also be more stringent performance standards for gas stoves and range hoods.

As for individual actions, the team recommends hiring a specialist to perform an in-home leak inspection and improving ventilation when cooking.

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During a heat wave, a street thermometer in Seville, Spain shows 51 degrees Celsius (approximately 124°F). CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP / GettyImages

Heat waves are an extremely deadly type of extreme weather event — in the U.S. they kill more people in an average year than other weather hazards — but, despite this, they are not given the names and categories of hurricanes and other storms. 

Now, one city in Spain is looking to change that. On the first day of summer 2022, Seville became the first city in the world to introduce a naming and ranking system for periods of high heat. 

Heat waves are an extremely deadly type of extreme weather event — in the U.S. they kill more people in an average year than other weather hazards — but, despite this, they are not given the names and categories of hurricanes and other storms. 

Now, one city in Spain is looking to change that. On the first day of summer 2022, Seville became the first city in the world to introduce a naming and ranking system for periods of high heat. 

“We are the first city in the world to take a step that will help us plan and take measures when this type of meteorological event happens — particularly because heat waves always hit the most vulnerable,” Seville Mayor Antonio Muñoz said in a press release. “The city government ratifies its commitment in the fight against climate change through the reduction of emissions and decarbonization, and second, through adaptation — to make Seville a resilient city with a model that truly tackles the big challenge of rising heat.”

Seville is located in Andalusia, which is already one of the hottest regions in Spain. However, the climate crisis is making heat waves around the globe more frequent and severe. In Spain, they have become twice as common this decade when compared to the past, according to The Guardian. 

The announcement also comes as Spain has experienced an unusually warm spring. May was the warmest in 58 years, and June brought one of its earliest heat waves on record. In fact, the first two weeks of June were the hottest the country has ever seen, as E&E News reported. 

However, the plan to develop a system to name and categorize heat waves was actually announced in October of 2021. It was born of a partnership between Seville and the Arsht-Rock’s Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance. The goal was to reduce the toll that heat waves take on human health. 

“Heat waves, have been dubbed ‘the silent killer’ for a reason: They wreak unseen havoc on our economies, prey on the most vulnerable members of society, and kill more people than any other climate-driven hazard, yet the dangers they pose are grossly underestimated and gravely misunderstood,” Kathy Baughman McLeod, who directs the Arsht-Rock’s Extreme Heat Resilience Alliance, said when the plan was first announced. 

The pilot program, officially called proMETEO Seville, will launch this summer and run for one year, according to the announcement. Heat waves will be assigned a severity category from one to three — with three being the most severe — based on a combination of temperature, humidity and conditions in the 30 days before the heat wave. Different categories will trigger different actions like the opening of public pools or the deployment of heat workers to monitor the most vulnerable populations, such as the elderly. Category 3 heat waves will also receive names, beginning with the end of the Spanish alphabet. The first five names will be Zoe, Yago, Xenia, Wenceslao and Vega. 

“This new method, backed by 18 months of our science teams’ analysis and research and built with many global and local experts is intended to build awareness of this deadly impact of climate change — and ultimately save lives,” Baughman McLeod said in the most recent announcement. 

Other cities may soon follow in Seville’s footsteps. Athens, Greece; Melbourne, Australia; Los Angeles; and Miami are all among the cities that are developing similar programs.

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People walking in Tokyo's Shibuya district with umbrellas to protect themselves from the sun on June 27, 2022. David Mareuil / Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

June in the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering so far, with every continent setting high temperature records. Japan set a record for the month on Saturday when the city of Isesaki reached 104.4 degrees Fahrenheit, reported The Washington Post.

In what is likely another example of human-caused climate change, Japan officially declared an end to the rainy season in the Kanto region ⁠— which encompasses Tokyo ⁠— 22 days early on Monday, The Guardian reported. It was the earliest since the Japan Meteorological Agency began recordkeeping more than 70 years ago, reported NPR. The rainy season usually makes temperatures in the region more bearable.

June in the Northern Hemisphere has been sweltering so far, with every continent setting high temperature records. Japan set a record for the month on Saturday when the city of Isesaki reached 104.4 degrees Fahrenheit, reported The Washington Post.

In what is likely another example of human-caused climate change, Japan officially declared an end to the rainy season in the Kanto region ⁠— which encompasses Tokyo ⁠— 22 days early on Monday, The Guardian reported. It was the earliest since the Japan Meteorological Agency began recordkeeping more than 70 years ago, reported NPR. The rainy season usually makes temperatures in the region more bearable.

The country’s government has asked people in the Tokyo area to conserve energy in the face of possible power shortages.

“We ask the public to reduce energy consumption during the early evening hours when the reserve ratio falls,” said Parliamentary Vice-Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Yoshihiko Isozaki, as reported by The Guardian.

The ministry encouraged those living in the region served by the Tokyo Electric Power Co. to be particularly conservative with their energy use during the peak consumption hours of four to five p.m., The Associated Press reported.

Following the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster, most of Japan’s nuclear reactors were suspended, compromising its power supply. To meet carbon emissions reduction pledges, the country has also been closing old coal plants.

According to reports, less than three percent reserve energy capacity means a risk of blackouts and power shortages, and Tokyo’s was at risk of falling to 3.7 percent, reported The Guardian.

“Please cooperate and save as much power as possible,” said ministry director of electricity supply policy Kaname Ogawa, as The Associated Press reported.

Isosaki encouraged businesses and households to reduce the use of lights and air conditioners, while warning them to be cautious of heatstroke, reported The Guardian.

According to the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper, more than 250 people suffering from heatstroke in Tokyo were taken to the hospital over the weekend.

To help prevent heatstroke, officials were recommending that people not wear masks when outdoors, though many were still wearing them.

“Immediately after the rainy season ends, many people are yet to be fully acclimated to heat and face a greater risk of heatstroke,” said Japan’s meteorological agency in a statement, as The Guardian reported.

The meteorological agency predicted the heat would continue through the beginning of July due to hot air from a high pressure system hanging over the Pacific Ocean, reported The Associated Press.

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