The I See Smoke App is here! Report smoke pollution with this easy tool

October 29th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

For those affected by wood smoke pollution, the Clean Air Council’s I See Smoke program has rolled out a new tool that makes reporting violations and taking action easy. The new I See Smoke map allows users to find their location and share information and photos of the smoke pollution in their neighborhood.

iseesmoke base map

Full instructions on how to use the map can be found here

By using the app, community members fill out information about the pollution they see. That information then gets passed on to the Clean Air Council, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, and all appropriate county health agencies. This streamlines the reporting process and makes sure that all violations are being reported to the agencies that oversee air quality enforcement.

“As someone who has managed asthma since childhood, I am often afflicted by smoke pollution from open burning in Allegheny County,” said Don Van Kirk of Franklin Park. “It burns your eyes, stings your lungs and is more than just a nuisance, it is debilitating. This is a great tool to report violations”

Wood smoke pollution can be extremely harmful for those who live nearby. The burning of biomass, such as wood, results in high levels of soot, particulate matter, and carcinogenic material being released with comparatively little energy produced.  Everyone’s health can be impacted but especially children with their developing lungs and the elderly.

Check out this easy to use and innovative tool and report wood smoke pollution in your neighborhood. Speaking up for clean air will help to protect your health and the health of your community.

New Report Shows Most Polluting Biomass Facilities in Pennsylvania

October 24th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

How close to do you live to a dangerous biomass facility? A new report and database released by the Partnership for Public Integrity this week shows the 100 most polluting biomass facilities in Pennsylvania.

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Do you live near a polluting biomass facility?

This database is an excellent resource and gives a strong picture of the biomass industry in Pennsylvania. By making information available to the public, it allows affected community members to get involved with air quality issues that impact their neighborhood.

Biomass is commonly misunderstood as a clean fuel source.

“Biomass is unique because it has been subsidized and promoted so heavily in Pennsylvania as clean renewable energy, while the reality is that biomass burners emit tens of tons of soot and other pollutants into local communities,” said Mary Booth, director of PFPI and the author of the report.

Burning wood and other biomass emits high amounts of pollutants such as particulate matter and soot which worsens air quality and can exasperate respiratory illness.

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Photo by Flickr user Neil Turner

One of the most striking facts from the report is the drastic increases in asthma in school children across the state from 2008 to 2012. Pennsylvania has seen an overall 43% increase in asthma in schoolchildren, with some counties seeing increases as high as 256%. While there are many factors that can contribute to asthma, the ever degrading air quality in Pennsylvania certainly plays a role in these heightened rates. Our children are paying the price for our foolish environmental practices.

When it comes to protecting our air, Pennsylvania isn’t doing too well. Over a third of Pennsylvania counties (25 of the 67) failed to meet Environmental Protection Agency health standards for particulate matter, ozone or both. Particulate matter is one of the most dangerous pollutants released from biomass and wood burning operations. As we continue to irresponsibly burn wood, biomass, and fossil fuels, particulate matter and ozone endure in our communities.

Pennsylvania should be subsidizing and supporting true renewable energy like wind and solar power. Continuing to invest in polluting fuels like biomass will only lead to more pollution and more respiratory illness. You can read the full report on biomass facilities in Pennsylvania here.

 

 

New Report Shows Wood Furnaces Pose a Threat to Community Health

October 10th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

This week Environment and Human Heath Inc. (EHHI) published the first peer-reviewed article focused on the dangers of wood smoke emissions and wood burning devices. And the results were conclusive: wood smoke is a serious threat to public health. Wood smoke contributes to air pollution which can cause asthma, affect lung function, and cause cardiac arrhythmias and acute heart attacks.

“Wood smoke particles are particularly dangerous because they are small and thus are inhaled deeply into the lungs. The wood smoke particles contain many of the same harmful compounds found in cigarette smoke, and they are carcinogenic”

– Nancy Alderman, President of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

Wood smoke from outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWB), wood stoves and open burning, all contribute to air pollution. But it is the outdoor wood-fired boilers or wood furnaces that are the most harmful. It is estimated that an average OWB produces as many fine particulates per hour as 22 indoor wood stoves.

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This study showed that homes neighboring an OWB unit had “significantly higher particulate levels than control houses that were not near an OWB”. Homes nearly three football fields away (850 ft.) from an OWB unit had six times the level of particulates as control homes. That is four times the EPA’s air standard level.  And homes 240 feet away from an OWB had particulate level twelve times the levels of control homes, eight times the EPA air standard level.

This is troubling. Neighbors of those who use OWBs are exposed to an extremely high level of particulate matter with no way to move their homes to safety. Most states have no setback regulations but, for the few states that do, this study shows that they are not strong enough. Connecticut, for example, has a 200 ft. setback requirement, which would still put neighbors well within the danger zone of exceptionally high level of particulate matter pollution.

Dr. David Brown, public health toxicologist with EHHI said it best when he said, “Outdoor wood furnaces should be labeled with cancer and asthma warnings.” Current setback regulations do not protect public health. This means that we need to adopt stricter regulations and cleaner technologies to make sure that our neighbors have clean, safe air to breathe.

Want to learn more about Outdoor Wood-fired Boilers? Check out our fact sheet for more information.

Why the Open Burn Regulations in Allegheny County Matter

October 7th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

Wood burning issues are making news in Allegheny county. The County Council will vote in the coming weeks on revised open burning regulations proposed by the Allegheny County Department of Health. When you think of air pollutants, wood smoke may not be top of mind, but in Allegheny County, over a third of all health complaints about air quality were related to wood burning.

Open Wood burning releases toxic pollutants such as Particulate Matter

Open Wood burning releases toxic pollutants such as particulate matter (PM)

The toxicity level of wood smoke is often compared to that of cigarette smoking. Burning wood or biomass gives off high amounts of carbon, nitrogen, sulfuric oxides, volatile organic compounds and particulate matter.  These pollutants cause a whole host of problems from respiratory and asthma illnesses to a greater risk of heart complications. We would never want to expose a child to the dangers of second hand cigarette smoke, and the same logic should apply to the dangers of wood smoke pollution.

These new regulations would take very moderate steps to addressing a large problem. The proposed rule states that no materials other than clean wood, propane or natural gas could be burned and open burning must occur at least 15 feet from the nearest neighbor’s property line, roadway or sidewalk. 15 feet is still way too close to vulnerable neighbors. A recent study showed that homes 240 feet away from wood smoke pollution had particulate level twelve times the levels of control homes, eight times above the EPA air standard level.

The issue of wood smoke pollution comes down to a simple principal: the golden rule. The pollution created by burning wood and biomass creates a very serious threat to the neighbors and community members who live within close proximity. We have to think of our neighbors and the harm we are doing to them.

Open wood burning in drastically more pollutant than other forms of heat/energy

Open wood burning releases drastically more pollutant than other sources of energy. Source: Families For Clean Air

The regulations proposed in Allegheny County are a first step to protecting the members of the Allegheny community from the threat of wood smoke pollution but they do not do all they could to alleviate the problem. The best way to protect public health is by instating a ban on open burning.

speak upAre you one of the thousands of people afflicted by wood smoke pollution? Submit a health complaint using this online forum.