Hydrogen use in homes would fuel climate change, increase health and safety risks from gas system June 22, 2022
New report from Physicians for Social Responsibility finds health, safety and climate risks from piping hydrogen into homes for heating and cooking
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Washington, DC — Blending hydrogen into the existing gas system for use in home appliances could lock in methane gas use for decades to come while increasing health and safety risks, according to a report released today by Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR). The findings come as gas utilities across the nation push hydrogen blending as an alternative to electrification for decarbonizing homes and buildings.
“The vast majority of hydrogen in the United States is produced using polluting fossil fuels like methane and coal. Piping hydrogen into homes would increase greenhouse gas emissions and health risks, while delaying the transition to homes that run on renewable electricity,” said Andee Krasner, MPH, lead report author and program manager for climate and health, Greater Boston PSR.
The report, “Hydrogen Pipe Dreams: Why Burning Hydrogen in Buildings is Bad for Climate and Health,” further documents that hydrogen ignites more easily and is more explosive than methane, and that piping it into homes could increase the danger of explosions. In addition to the safety risks, hydrogen blending perpetuates the use of methane gas, a potent greenhouse gas that when burned emits health-harming pollutants that contribute to respiratory illnesses including asthma. Burning methane and hydrogen would continue to emit or even increase nitrogen dioxide emissions, which is known to exacerbate asthma symptoms, and may contribute to the development of asthma.
“I’m deeply concerned about the health and safety risks associated with burning a hydrogen-methane blend in our homes, especially for vulnerable populations and communities who already face disproportionate health burdens due to air pollution and climate change,” said Barbara Gottlieb, director of environment and health, PSR. “Hydrogen blending will increase, not decrease, our reliance on fossil fuels, and that will perpetuate existing health inequities.”
Fossil fuel companies claim blending hydrogen with methane for cooking and space and water heating would lower the carbon footprint of gas use in homes. However, since most hydrogen is derived from methane or coal, utilizing hydrogen will actually increase greenhouse gas emissions.
“Blending hydrogen with methane to use in homes would contribute to climate change and worsen the climate emergency,” said Gottlieb. “We need to end our reliance on methane, not perpetuate it. Adding hydrogen is not only dangerous; it also distracts us from cost-effective solutions like all-electric homes powered by renewable energy sources.”
Hydrogen production and delivery could result in dramatic increases in fuel costs, not to mention the costs of switching out current appliances for hydrogen-compatible appliances. These costs would hurt all gas users, and low-income households would suffer the most.
The report – which includes policy and advocacy recommendations – comes on the heels of the American Medical Association’s (AMA’s) annual meeting, where the nation’s largest medical society passed a resolution recognizing the climate and health dangers of fossil-fuel derived hydrogen.
“We are heartened to see the AMA take a stand against the dangerous use of hydrogen in homes. We hope that policymakers and the public will join PSR in advancing proven building decarbonization strategies like electrification. We should resist gas industry efforts to extend our use of methane gas at the risk of our safety, health and climate,” Gottlieb said.
About Physicians for Social Responsibility
Physicians for Social Responsibility (PSR) is a physician and health activist 501(c)3 organization whose mission is to protect human life from the gravest threats to health and survival. Founded in 1961, and co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1985, PSR works at the intersection of public health, the environment, and social justice, collaborating with public health and equity advocates to address climate change, environmental health, and nuclear weapons policy. Led by a board of activist physicians, nurses and public health professionals, the PSR community includes over 30,000 health activists and 24 chapters in major cities and medical schools throughout the United States.