Fall Away From Wood Burning

By: Mollie Simon

RoastingMarshmallowThe nights are getting cooler, we’re making the switch from shorts to pants, and we are starting to remember our jackets before we leave the house. But unfortunately, with the beautiful colors of fall landscapes also comes dangerous wood smoke pollution for many neighborhoods across the state. How do you prepare yourself for the start of a long winter with wood burning nearby?

Wood burning and open fires conjure up memories of fun fall nights but we know that the unseen pollution and health risks are great. According to Environment and Human Health Inc. homes nearly three football fields away (850 feet) from an outdoor wood-fired boilers had six times the level of particulates as control homes. Even the smallest outdoor wood-fired boiler has the potential to emit almost one and one-half tons of particulate matter every year. Particulate matter is one of the greatest air pollution threats to health and is the pollutant most closely associated with deaths. The World Health Organization estimates that particulate matter worldwide is estimated to cause about 16% of lung cancer deaths, 11% of COPD deaths, and more than 20% of ischemic heart disease and stroke.map app

I See Smoke published a guide for how to talk to neighbors about what can sometimes be a difficult topic. Spreading information about the very real health impacts of wood burning is the strongest way to motivate someone to make better heating choices. The guide offers suggestions for how to start these conversations and how to present information in a respectful and strong manner.

Sometimes talking is not enough. I See Smoke also has an application you can use to report wood burning to the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection and to local health agencies. These are good options if communication is not getting through to the wood burner. It is also important to report burning to your local authorities in order to flag this as a priority issue for your township.

Through education, we can help spread the word that you do not have to have a fire in order to have a cozy fall or winter day. Burning wood threatens the health of your family and your neighbors. This fall, avoid burning wood and encourage your neighbors and family to do the same.

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.

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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.

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.

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.