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.

Open Burning Hearing in Allegheny County

The Allegheny County Health Department public hearing on Open Burning http://www.achd.net/air/index.php  is coming up next week on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 10:00 AM, in the First Floor Conference Room at Building #7 of the Clack Health Center, 301 39th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 for proposed amendments to Rules and Regulations on Open Burning.  If you want to comment in person, please contact the Department at least 24 hours before the meeting at 412-578-8120.
Clean Air Council proposes for maximum health protection a “no burn alternative” for the amendments to Allegheny County Air Regulations.  https://iseesmokepa.org/2014/02/10/model-legislation-on-banning-open-burning/  Below are the direct links to the notice and the proposed regulation change:
Contact Thurman Brendlinger at brendlinger@cleanair.org or 215-567-4004, Ext. 104 if you plan on presenting comments or have questions about the issue. 

Hearing on Open Burning Regulations for Allegheny County

Join the Campaign

Join Clean Air Council  at the upcoming Allegheny County Health Department public hearing on Tuesday, July 1, 2014, at 10:00 AM,  to voice your support and present you comments on a No Burn Alternative in Allegheny County.  The hearing will be held in the First Floor Conference Room at Building #7 of the Clack Health Center, 301 39th Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15201 for proposed amendments to Rules and Regulations on Open Burning.
Contact Thurman Brendlinger, brendlinger@cleanair.org or 215-567-4004, Ext. 104 if you plan on presenting comments or have questions about the issue.

Click on the image below to view or download the entire fact sheet.

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Better Burning Practices

All wood burning produces particulate matter and hazardous chemicals.  However, if you are going to burn wood, then it is important  to make sure you are following the best practices. Proper techniques can minimize emissions and reduce threats to public health.  Always make sure to:

  • Use dry, seasoned wood.
  • Burn hardwoods like oak, in place of soft ones like pine.
  • Never burn trash, plastic or pressure-treated woods.
  • Avoid using an accelerator like gasoline to start a fire.
  • Don’t leave a dying fire to smolder. It produces more air pollution and presents a safety hazard.
  • Check your local air quality forecast before you burn.

If you burn indoors:

  • Keep air vents clear of ashes.
  • Regularly clean your chimney or flue.
  • Upgrade to an EPA-certified wood stove or fireplace insert.  These burn cleaner, more efficiently, and emit less particle matter.

Read the full article from Pittsburgh Today by clicking here.

Clean Air Council Comments on Proposed Regulations for OWBs

On May 5, 2014, Clean Air Council submitted joint comments with Environmental Defense Fund and Hoosier Environmental Council on EPA’s rule proposing new source performance standards for residential wood heaters.  Current EPA standards for new wood heaters were issued in 1988 and have remained unchanged despite the Clean Air Act requirement that EPA review, and if appropriate, revise standards every 8 years.  More protective standards are more than 18 years overdue.  The current outdated standards do not cover hydronic heaters and furnaces (also known as outdoor wood-fired boilers and furnaces) as well as many other types of wood stoves.  Modern wood stoves, furnaces, and hydronic heaters are capable of achieving much lower emissions and higher efficiencies than current standards require, meaning new stoves can provide significant health and economic benefits to families across the nation.  The Council’s comments requested, generally, that EPA finalize more protective standards.  More specifically, the comments:

  • Examine the harmful impact of wood smoke on communities across the nation;
  • Highlight the tremendous health and economic benefits of the proposed rule;
  • Support the broad application of health-protective standards to furnaces, hydronic heaters and previously unregulated wood stoves;
  • Request that the proposed 2015 “Step 1” emission standards for wood stoves be made more protective by ensuring that certification extensions are not granted to high-polluting wood stoves;
  • Urge EPA to finalize the more protective proposed “Step 2” standards for new wood stoves, and require earlier compliance with those standards;
  • Urge EPA to finalize proposed Step 1 and Step 2 standards for new  hydronic heaters and forced-air furnaces, but require earlier compliance with Step 2 and include time-based emission standards for Step 2 units;
  • Support many of the improvements EPA has proposed in the test methods for these devises;
  • Recommend additional steps to ensure the integrity of compliance certification procedures;
  • Request EPA continue to require temporary hangtags for all new devices covered by this rule to help consumers make informed decisions about energy savings and public health; and
  • Respond to EPA’s request for comment on visible emission limitation