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Attorney General Martha Coakley joins effort to pressure federal government for tougher wood-burning regulations

Wood-burning stove with tea kettle

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The Massachusetts attorney general’s office, attorneys general from six other states and six environmental organizations are pressuring the federal government to begin regulating outdoor wood-burning boilers and to toughen regulations on residential wood-burning devices.

Attorney General Martha Coakley has joined with her counterparts from Connecticut, Vermont, New York, Rhode Island, Oregon and Maryland, along with the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency in Washington, in filing a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for failing to review and revise its 25-year-old New Source Performance Standards under the Clean Air Act.

Although the filing calls for EPA to abide by its mandate to review its performance at least every eight years, the greatest concern is with outdoor wood boilers, which the EPA originally exempted from its standards.

“We get calls from all of the Northern states from people who are suffering from wood-smoke exposure in their homes,” said Nancy Alderman, president of the Connecticut-based Environment and Human Health Inc., which also filed notice of intent, along with the Environmental Defense Fund, American Lung Association and Pennsylvania-based Clean Air Council.

“And one of the really sad things about this whole issue is that windows and doors cannot keep out wood smoke if it’s close enough to you,” she added. “What’s explosive, in my opinion, is that outdoor wood burning is growing (in popularity) with absolutely no regulations.”

In recent years some local towns have adopted their own bylaws governing outdoor wood boilers that heat homes.

The attorneys’ general Aug. 1 letter cites a 2008 report that outdoor wood boilers can emit about 12 times more particulates than EPA-certified wood-burning stoves, 1,000 times as much as oil furnaces and 1,800 times as much as gas furnaces.

The current emission standards for residential wood-fired heaters have been in place since February 1988, the letter states, yet the EPA has not completed its required notice and rule-making proceedings to review those standards and make revisions in view of improved technologies that can reduce those emissions.

The EPA issued a statement this week saying that its draft revisions to the new standards for residential wood heaters are now undergoing interagency review.

“Over the past two years, EPA has conducted extensive outreach and has received important feedback that has helped inform the draft now under review,” the agency said. “Once interagency review is complete, EPA will issue a proposal, and the public will have the opportunity to review and provide comment before EPA takes final action.”

The agency added, “EPA plans to address outdoor wood-burning boilers in the upcoming proposal ... Outdoor wood boilers (also called hydronic heaters) are not currently regulated at the federal level; however, consumers can choose cleaner-burning models through EPA’s voluntary partnership program. Heaters currently qualified under this program are 90 percent cleaner than unqualified models.”

The attorneys general and nonprofit petitioners call for the federal agency to promptly propose and issue revised standards for residential wood heating devices and for inclusion of outdoor wood boilers as well as indoor wood boilers and hydronic heaters.

“Attempts to control or minimize the health and quality of life impacts from outdoor wood boiler emissions have resulted in a patchwork of enforcement and legislative efforts of various states and localities, with little success,” the letter states.

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Legacy Comments1

Wood smoke is the second tobacco smoke. It contains a host of the same toxic chemicals that are also in cigarette smoke, including lead, arsenic, mercury, benzene, and many others. Smoking bans protect indoor air and even some outdoor air in many states, there is no protection from wood smoke, which is far more concentrated and pervasive. Wood smoke regularly contaminates public and private events, so that access is difficult for the growing numbers of people with heart or lung disease, such as asthma. And asthma is the number one reason for school absenteeism. It is time for the EPA to disallow recreational wood burning for starters; and require only true clean technology for home heating.

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