Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The growing air pollution threat from wood burning

High fuel costs have been prompting tens of thousands of people in the Northeast to start burning wood in outdoor furnaces.

But this shift may be coming at a high cost – more air pollution.

I was stunned to read this morning that these furnaces are basically unregulated and emit very high levels of lethal fine-particle soot. A lot more collectively than I had realized.

The smoldering details are in a report just published by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) and available online at


The report notes that these smoky devices can essentially turn a neighborhood into the equivalent of a truck stop parking lot. (One of these furnaces pollutes as much on an hourly basis as four big diesel trucks – or 8,000 natural gas furnaces.)

Apparently sales are growing rapidly. The report estimates that nearly 68,000 of them were sold just last year, and that half a million of them could be operating nationwide by 2010.

It is a little alarming that this is happening at the same time that public health advocates are urging the federal government to set tougher national health standards for particle soot.

Because there are no federal standards for outdoor wood furnaces, the report recommends that states consider setting their own clean-air limits for these devices.

New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer issued a similar warning last fall regarding sales of outdoor wood furnaces in New York State: http://www.oag.state.ny.us/press/2005/aug/August%202005.pdf

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