Building electrification and taking out natural gas from our buildings will save San Diegans money.
BY VI THUY NGUYEN
Nguyen, M.D., is founder of San Diego Pediatricians for Clean Air, co-chair of American Academy of Pediatrics San Diego climate change and health committee, chair of American Academy of Pediatrics California expert committee on environmental health and co-chair of the public health advisory council at Climate Actions Campaign. She lives in Pacific Beach.
I really wanted to thank The San Diego Union-Tribune’s Rob Nikolewski for his article published April 6 regarding what most now call “building electrification,” transitioning our buildings from natural gas to electricity. In his article, there were concerns brought up regarding the cost of transitioning our region and he wrote that “some studies have reported a connection between natural gas stoves and asthma in children, although the natural gas industry says there is no documented risks to respiratory health, especially if homes are property ventilated.”
Several of my friends forwarded me this article, and I knew immediately that it was my place to clarify for Union-Tribune readership both the dangers of methane but also the health benefits and cost savings of building electrification in the health care sector.
Reducing natural gas use in buildings is not just one piece of the city’s Climate Action Plan. It’s one of the most exciting aspects from a public health perspective, and one that will save lives and lead to cost savings in the health care sector immediately.
The general public might not be aware that the American Public Health Association in November 2022 put out a definitive statement declaring that “gas stove emissions are a public health concern,” and that “exposure to indoor nitrogen dioxide increases risk of illness in children, older adults and people with underlying health conditions.”
Indeed, what most don’t realize is that gas stoves, especially those in homes with children in lower-income neighborhoods in small rented spaces, are the cause of a large proportion of pediatric asthma flares. Children who live in a home with a gas stove have a 42 percent higher risk of having current asthma and a 24 percent higher lifetime risk of asthma than children living in homes with electric stoves. It’s comparable to living in a home with a smoker. And these exposures were correlated with hospital admissions for asthma as well.
It’s disheartening to think that we have more gas stoves in California than in other regions. Our children are suffering, and our health care costs are spiraling due to this. By turning off natural gas and moving toward clean electricity, we will be addressing one of the root causes of why many of us are sick.
Let’s talk about cost! Building electrification and taking out natural gas from our buildings will save San Diegans money. Simply put, health care is expensive, and costs are rising because people are more sick due to exposure to harmful gases created after burning natural gas.
When the Centers for Disease Control analyzed medical expenditures among U.S. adults, it found that among 166 million working adults, at least 15 million had either an asthma or a medical event related to chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) annually. That costs at least $12 billion per year, and a majority of that is paid by those who hold private medical insurance. Each adult COPD visit costs at least $27,000 and an adult asthma visit at least $8,000 to the system. Pediatric asthma costs us at least $5 billion annually in the U.S. That is estimated to be in the range of about $10,000 yearly per child diagnosed.
My patients’ parents often have to balance the cost of multiple inhalers for their children. If you have ever had a child with asthma, you know an asthma flare takes a toll on your family emotionally and financially. If you are trying to understand the cost of natural gas in building construction, please consider the cost of our health care. The city has already detailed that all-electric homes can lower utility bills from $130-$540 per year, but the potential cost savings from the health care costs are much higher.
When the San Diego City Council voted last summer 8-0 to not only eliminate natural gas hookups for all new construction but to reduce the use of natural gas in existing buildings by 45 percent by 2030 — and then phase out 90 percent of natural gas in all buildings in the city by 2035 — there was a quiet cheer from myself and many of my physician friends working on the front lines in pediatric offices, emergency rooms and on our physician-only social media platforms.
Physicians are often so busy working that we are not able to show up in the public arena to tell you our perspective. However, from this local pediatrician’s perspective, I’m all for San Diego slashing 90 percent of natural gas from all buildings because it’s going to save us all money and, more importantly, save lives.