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.

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.

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

Allegheny County Offers Incentive to Replace Wood-Burning Heaters

Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) is set to offer incentives for home owners who replace out-dated wood burning stoves (WBSs) and outdoor wood-fired boilers (OWBs).  New stoves and boilers must meet EPA emissions requirements, but many existing stoves are do not meet these standards.  ACHD’s program aims to help home owners replace these older, less efficient, and more polluting units with new EPA Certified WBSs and OWBs, or cleaner electric or gas powered units.  Allegheny residents can register before May 9th, 2014 to receive one of five $500 gift cards for an OWB or two-hundred $200 gift cards for a wood stove.  Existing stoves must be turned into ACHD on May 17th to receive one of the gift cards, which are redeemable at Home Depot, Lowe’s, Kmart, Dick’s Sporting Goods, GetGo and Giant Eagle.

For more information, check out the full article in the Pittsburg Post-Gazette.