New Study Shows Wood Burning Regulation Significantly Improves Public Health

May 15th, 2015
By: Mollie Simon

Last month, scientists from California released a report detailing the effects of wood burning regulation on public health in the San Joaquin Air Basin. Their findings confirm that regulations to limit or stop wood-burning save lives and make for healthier lungs.

Stacked_woodwikipedia

Source: wikipedia.org

In particular, this study looked at something called Rule 4901, a regulation first adopted in 1992 and amended in 2003, which aimed to reduce emissions of carbon monoxide and particulates from residential wood burning fireplaces and heaters during the burn season (November- February). This was accomplished by establishing no-burn days when air quality in the region was too poor. It also required the switch out of older burning units for EPA-certified cleaner burners. Furthermore, the rule established a public health education program to help spread the word about the health dangers of wood smoke.

And the rules worked. The study showed that after implementation, they observed reductions of 12%, 11%, and 15% in particulate matter 2.5 micrometers in diameter or smaller (PM2.5), and 8%, 7%, and 11% in coarse particles, in the entire San Joaquin Air Basin and in rural and urban regions of the air basin, respectively. Among those aged 65 years and older, the rule was estimated to prevent 7%, 8%, and 5% of cardio-vascular disease cases, and 16%, 17%, and 13% of Ischemic heart disease cases, in the entire San Joaquin Air Basin and in rural and urban regions, respectively.

Smoke-from-Chimney-at-Winter-Mountain__27381-480x320publicphoto.org

Source: publicphoto.org

 

This study confirms what common sense tells us is true. Limiting wood smoke emissions in a neighborhood or air basin can have a significantly positive impact on public health. Less particulate matter pollution means less heart and lung disease and healthier people.

This is why it is so important to fight for wood burning bans or limitations. This study shows that limiting wood burning helps protect members of the community. For more information about how to propose wood burning regulations in your neighborhood, please visit our action page.

EPA Air Standards for Wood Burners: Steps in the Right Direction But Not Enough

February 27th, 2015
By: Mollie Simon

Earlier this month, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) updated their standards on outdoor wood-fired burners for the first time in 27 years. These updates are well overdue and will make new wood burners on the market cleaner and safer, while also allowing consumers to save energy and cut costs. Although these new regulations will make significant improvements, they do not go far enough for communities and neighborhoods already plagued with wood smoke pollution.

The science clearly shows that wood smoke pollution is dangerous to public health. Wood heaters and furnaces account for 13% of nationwide soot pollution. Particulate matter poisons our lungs and bodies. Biomass such as wood, when burned, gives off large amounts of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur oxides, in addition to volatile organic compounds.  All this pollution causes health complications like asthma, heart disease and other respiratory illnesses.

take up smoking

A PSA from San Francisco Bay Areas’s Spare the Air campaign

With these new standards, emissions from wood burners will be cut by about two thirds. This will improve air quality and provide between $3.4 and $7.6 billion dollars in health benefits. In fact, every dollar spent bringing cleaner heaters to market will be accompanied with between $74 and $165 dollars in health benefits. That means less asthma attacks, heart attacks, emergency rooms visits, and days missed of school and work.

10849052_1543838325872407_919473012116012488_o

Residential wood burning

So these rules are a step in the right direction. But the EPA could also be doing much more to protect people from wood smoke pollution. The rules released last week make improvements to wood burners on the market but do not address the wood burners already in use across the country. As many as 12% of homes across the Unites States burn wood as their primary heat source and all those thousands of wood burners will continue to pollute at unhealthy and dangerous levels. These rules also do not cover fireplaces, fire pits and chimineas, leaving other major sources of soot and particulate matter polluting at high levels.

These rules will help alleviate some wood smoke pollution. But the challenge is far from over. These rules are set to be phased in over a 5 year period, but those suffering from wood smoke pollution know that a 5 year phase out is too long to wait for new cleaner wood stoves. The EPA also needs to require yearly stove maintenance to ensure that stoves are maintaining their promised levels of emissions controls. Above all this, the EPA needs to require that all residents operating old units switch to newer, lower emission models so that the older models are brought out of operation. We need more action and leadership from the EPA on wood burning issues in order to fully address this problem in our communities

speak upIf you believe that EPA should take some of these common sense actions to further address wood smoke concerns, leave a comment for them here.

Don’t Get Smoked-In this Holiday Season

December 9th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

The holiday season is here and we know what that means: lots of festive lights, cookies, snow and family. This is also the season that fireplaces and stoves across the country will be used for heat and for ambiance. More than 27 million homes in the U.S. have a fireplace and nearly 9.3 million have wood-burning stoves.  As enjoyable as a glowing fire may seem, burning wood releases harmful air toxics directly into your home.

There is a warm feeling associated with a family sitting around the hearth in the cold winter months. While these wood fireplaces may be cozy, they are not healthy. Wood smoke contains dozens of nasty pollutants such as carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, hazardous metals, and known carcinogens such as formaldehyde, dioxin, benzene, and toluene. These are many of the same dangerous chemicals found in cigarette smoke. In fact, the Environmental Protection Agency estimates that breathing wood smoke particles during high pollution days is equivalent to smoking 4 to 16 cigarettes.

Some of our closest loved ones are the most susceptible to air pollution from fireplaces. Children and the elderly, as well as those predisposed to respiratory and cardiac disease, are more vulnerable to the medical complications of wood smoke. Potential health impacts include lung cancer, heart attacks, strokes, high blood pressure, and asthma.

One of the most dangerous pollutants produced from wood smoke pollution is particulate matter. PM levels in wood-heated homes are, on average, 26% higher than homes without wood-burning heat, according to air quality officials in the State of Washington. Fine particulate matter can lodge itself into one’s eyes and respiratory system causing major health problems. Dr. Joel Schwartz of the Harvard School of Public Health has said that, “Mammalian lungs don’t have defenses against small particles. Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air… we know that when particle levels go up, people die.”.

From Flickr user Tom Wachtel

From Flickr user Tom Wachtel

For all of these reasons, it’s not good for your health to burn wood in your home. But if you do rely on using a fireplace or wood stove, there are some simple steps to take that will help make your home a little safer. If you use a chimney, get it inspected and cleaned at least once a year (more often for older units) by a professional. Never burn trash or treated wood, and make sure your wood is clean has been split and dried for at least six months. The cooler your fire, the more emissions it produces, so hard woods (like maple, ash, oak, and beech) emit less than soft woods (like pine and fir). It is also vitally important that you use a fireplace insert in your fireplace. EPA-certified models burn 70 percent more efficiently than an open fireplace.

But what is better than all these tips is to not burn wood at all. The traditions of a winter fireplace are not worth the serious threat that wood smoke pollution poses.

For more information and resources about making smart burning choices, you can visit the EPA Burn Wise program. If the smoke pollution is out of your control, you can take action by reporting it using our I See Smoke map application.

Sources:
http://www.momscleanairforce.org/5-tips-for-cleaner-fires-from-a-chimney-sweep
http://www.achooallergy.com/fireplace-air-pollution.asp:
http://www.iqair.com/newsroom/2013/wood-burning-fireplaces-not-such-hot-idea
http://burningissues.org/car-www/medical_effects/fact-sheet.htm

Allegheny County Takes the First Steps towards Banning Opening Burning

November 10th, 2014
By: Mollie Simon

On Wednesday night, Allegheny County passed regulations that place limits on opening burning within the county. The Council voted 9-4 in favor of regulations that would limit outdoor fires to burning only clean wood, propane, natural gas,145209149_24177d4cbe_o charcoal, fire logs, wood pellets and smokeless fire starters. Fires also must now be at least 15 feet from the nearest property line. It’s a step in the right direction, but we need more.

The Clean Air Council and other environmental groups advocated for a ban on open burning. A recent report by Environment and Human Health Inc. (EHHI) showed that homes nearly three football fields away (850 ft.) from a wood burning units had six times the level of particulates as control homes. While it is important to have regulations on burning and wood smoke pollution, a ban is the only measure that guarantees that highest level of protection for community members.

A strong comparison can be made between wood smoke pollution and second hand smoking. The Clean Air Council addressed this in written comments to the County Council.

The health risk factors of wood smoke parallel the risk factors of secondhand smoke from tobacco use. The lessons learned with tobacco, can be applied here to fully protect county residents from the risks of wood smoke and help change the social norms on the use of wood burning.

We learned our lesson with secondhand smoke, adopting smoking bans and made our air cleaner. Let’s now wise up to the dangers of wood smoke.

Some members of the County Council argued that regulations should not be passed because they would be hard to enforce. That is true and one of the reasons a ban makes more sense. A ban on all open burning is easier to enforce and is, more importantly, safer for the community.

Allegheny County is starting to get it right- these rules are important and are a small step towards addressing a bigger problem. But what we really need is a ban on open burning.

If you are experiencing wood smoke in your neighborhood- report it to your local health and environmental agencies with this easy app.

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.

9483931325_8632f21228_z

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.

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