2012 Feb. 4: CT Danbury: OWF article – Smoke signals warn of health risk
Danbury News Times
Saturday, February 04, 2012
Smoke signals warn of health risk
When I drive into my town’s convenience store to get the morning papers, I drive by two homes that have outdoor wood furnaces.
In the summer, I don’t notice them. In the winter, it’s hard to miss them — they look like little 19th century mills in the 21st century. They are abundantly smoky.
I’m lucky I live a mile or two away from them — otherwise, I’d be coughing as I write this.
“The smoke outdoor furnaces produce is very similar to cigarette smoke,” said Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health Inc., an environmental advocacy group that’s been fighting against outdoor wood furnaces for several years.
“People who are neighbors to them breathe that smoke 24/7 for eight months a year.”
The smoke from outdoor wood furnaces is produced by what’s called “incomplete” combustion — a very slow-burning wood fire that produces a heavy, low-temperature smoke that does not head straight up into the atmosphere.
“It’s different than smoke from a wood stove,” said Karl Wagener, executive director of the stateCouncil of Environmental Quality, the watchdog agency that makes recommendations on environmental polices every year. “It tends to hang low in the valleys.”
This year, the council has sided with Environment and Human Health Inc. It’s not asking for a ban on the furnaces. But it is asking for a moratorium on new construction of them until the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection can write standards that govern their technology and cut into their thick plumes.
That puts the issue before the General Assembly.
“If the legislature asks us to do something, we are legally obligated to do it,” said DEEP spokesman Dennis Schain.
Outdoor wood furnaces aren’t wood stoves. They’re usually built in small sheds, away from their houses. They are furnaces that can be filled with logs as long as five feet. They heat water that runs through underground pipes to heat their owners’ homes.
For Alderman and Environment and Human Health Inc., the central issue of outdoor wood furnaces has always been how much smoke they produce — far more than wood stoves, oil furnaces or gas furnaces.
But Alderman also argues that besides dirtying lungs, they also sully property values.
“People cannot sell their homes if they have a outdoor wood furnace next door,” she said.
And Wagener said they are also causing an already overburdened DEEP staff to travel around the state investigating complaints about the smoke.
“They have to respond to hundreds of complaints, and that’s an inefficient use of their time,” Wagener said.
Currently, if you want to build an outdoor wood furnace, all you need is a building permit. The state has regulations about how far it has to be from a neighbor’s home. It regulates how high the furnace smoke stack must be. It prohibits people from burning trash or chemically treated wood.
But it doesn’t say anything about how much smoke a furnace can produce.
That seems odd. The satanic mills that used to line the state’s rivers now have to be clean. But a country squire can pump out soot at will.
Alderman said that is why it’s essential for the DEEP be involved.
“If they are not, there is no way to do this,” she said.
Contact Robert Miller
or at 203-731-3345.
or at 203-731-3345.