2012 March 9:NY: Letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality about Hydronic Wood Boiler Particulate Pollution

2012 March 9:NY: Letter to White House Council on Environmental Quality about Hydronic Wood Boiler Particulate Pollution

Ms. Nancy Sutley, Director

White House Council on Environmental Quality

Dear Ms. Sutley:

I am writing to you to express my frustration and the frustration of countless families that live in the northeast and midwest. Every day these family’s health are severely compromised because of a hole in the EPAs New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) that has existed for nearly 25 years. In the late 1980s the EPA did New Source Performance Standards for residential wood stoves. They unwittingly left out what has become a major pollution source in communities —- hydronic wood boilers.

Although the EPA is supposed to do updates to NSPS every 8 years they have not done an update to close this loophole allowing a proliferation of the sale of wood boilers UNREGULATED for nearly 25 years. In 2005 the NYS Attorney General’s Office issued a report titled, Smoke Gets in Your Lungs. This report focused on Outdoor Wood Boilers (but unfortunately did not include data on indoor wood boilers as well which have same design and pollution issues). In the report there was data in Appendix A of the emissions of Outdoor Wood Boilers (OWBs). The highest recorded emission was 269 grams per hour. In the front of the report the average emissions was listed as 70 g/hr but the average excluded the 269 g/hr in the calculation. Compare these emissions to that allowed by the 1980s NSPS which restricted the emissions of new wood stoves to 4.1 g/hr. Vast difference and huge pollution.

The pollution from wood boilers is filled w/fine particulate matter (PM 2.5), VOCs, PAHs and carcinogens.

This is the link to the chemical composition of wood smoke: http://burningissues.org/pdfs/WoodSmokeChemical2003.pdf

The NY AGs Office along with 5 other Attorney’s Generals and the Northeast States Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM) then petitioned the EPA.

This is the link to the report (NY has archived so VT links included): http://www.vtwoodsmoke.org/pdf/NY-OWB8-05.pdf

This is the link to the AG news release: http://www.vtwoodsmoke.org/pdf/OWBReport8-05.pdf

This is the link to the petition: http://www.ag.ny.gov/sites/default/files/press-releases/archived/Petition.pdf

Unfortunately for the citizens living downwind of wood boilers the petition did NOT result in an update to the NSPS for wood boilers to stop their proliferation or in most cases any remediation at all to the relentless smoke engulfing people’s homes and seriously impacting their health — for years now —- cuts in State staffing levels and lack of air monitoring equipment in States has left all flat footed. In fact the EPA further complicated that matter confusing both the public and public officials by starting a Voluntary Program. The Program was developed in conjunction with the Hearth, Patio and Barbeque Association (HPBA), the lobbyist for boiler manufacturers. The Voluntary Program started a “certification” process using what is known as Method 28 testing. In Sept. 2011 it was found that the EPA testing data for the Voluntary Program was 90% incorrect or missing raising some very serious concerns about the EPA’s actions.

Here is the link to that report:


In addition the Method 28 testing used kiln dried red oak vastly underestimating the emissions from the Voluntary Program boilers.

The EPA has been drafting NSPS for years with multiple meetings and presentations to the HPBA. On 9/12/10 HPBA submitted comments to the Small Business Advocacy Review Panel. As I understand it regulations must be reviewed for their impact upon small business but this opening of the door to HPBA without an equal balance of comment and review by the environmental community is totaling skewing and delaying the process to the detriment of the breathing public.

This is the link to the HPBA NSPS Initiative website which has a history of the EPAs and HPBAs interactions:


Most recently in December 2011 EPA held a meeting with HPBA to again review the status of any updates to the NSPS. Again no balance with State agencies or environmental organizations. We the breathing public view this as “the fox guarding the hen house” and have VERY serious concerns about this regulatory process.

After much email, calls, and letters of complaint to EPA a webinar was held last month w/EPA on their proposed NSPS. It was not very productive in that it reviewed slides that were available on line but did not allow any conversation with the public, did not invite all concerned State agencies and did not invite any Environmental agencies to our knowledge. The meeting was in the afternoon during the week when citizens active on this issue are also at work precluding the participation of many. EPA stated approximately 200 people participated. No list of attendees was distributed. A small amount of time was given to questions and answers which were only permitted via written submission — no verbal follow up allowed for clarifications. I have contacted Gil Wood at the EPA and requested a posting of all questions and answers. He has stated he will do this.

Of most concern and the reason for this email is the statements made by Mr. Wood and the proposed NSPS.

  • The push of the EPA seems to be the push of the HPBA to adopt the EPA Voluntary Phase II wood boilers as the standard.
  • EPA is completely ignoring issues that have been raised by NYSERDA, NESCAUM, and Westar with regard to the test method, the carbon emissions, and inherent design issues with the hydronic wood boilers which preclude complete combustion. These organizations have sent repeated letters, conducted studies and issued reports which seem to be being ignored in the EPAs draft NSPS.
  • NESCAUM studies have shown real world emissions of Voluntary boilers of 95 g/hr. versus EPAs use of Method 28 and kiln dried red oak. Why would EPA allow a standard for a wood burning device that reverses the standard set for wood stoves in the 1980s? This is a step backward in Air Quality (many communities in the northeast and mid-west are now experiencing wood haze comparable to that which triggered the first NSPS by NYS and NRDC action — a major health problem and growing one for meeting National Ambient Air Quality Standards and one that is a major environmental justice issue since air monitoring equipment is absent in these areas).

The more shocking part of the EPAs webinar was however the statement that Section 111 of the Clean Air Act does not allow any look back or rectification of the estimated 500,000 wood boilers polluting citizens air in the mid-west and northeast because the EPA allowed this loophole to go on unchanged for over 2 decades.

In all of our looking at the Clean Air Act it is apparent that much of the enforcement is ultimately at the State Level thru the adoption of State Implementation Plans. IF EPA adopts the Voluntary Program this is not only a step back in air regulations but gives the States no leg to stand on to deal with existing boilers (both old models and voluntary models). States need leadership by the EPA because getting Legislators to understand and pass Legislation as they have in Oregon and Washington is near impossible. Connecticut has tried repeatedly to no avail. Meanwhile families continue to suffer serious health impacts.

In order to address what appears to have been “too tight of a relationship between EPA and HPBA and an ignoring of the science we need your intervention. The NSPS must require that ALL residential wood burning devices be held to the same standard and use test methods that represent real world burning (we are also concerned about the proliferation of hydronic heaters that are billed as commercial which do no seem to have come under the purview of other EPA regulations).

We need your office to please look into the issue of both the upcoming NSPS for residential wood stoves — see: http://www.epa.gov/burnwise/ —- and to ensure that the major environmental nightmare that existing unregulated wood boilers are addressed. No family should have to buy multiple air cleaners to try and stem the pollution in their home, be precluded from enjoying their yard, think their house is on fire because their smoke alarm is going off because their neighbor’s boiler filled their home with smoke, be forced to move, go to the hospital because their child is having an asthma attack from the neighbor’s boiler smoke, plug their air vents, or spend thousands of dollars on lawyers to sue for clean air —- all of these things have and continue to happen.

There needs to be an immediate stop to the sale of these hydronic boilers until it can be proved they can meet the same standard expected of wood stoves.

There needs to be change out programs to quickly retire those in existence.

There needs to be monies for states to purchase aethlometers and nephlometers to do mobile monitoring to support shut down of boilers using nuisance standards.

This is an issue that the Administration inherited and the science and void in public policy can no longer be ignored.

The following quote from the President says it all for us. We want our children to be able to breathe clean air, but we need your help.
“It’s a good day in the fight for cleaner air. It’s a good day in the fight for healthier communities. And it’s a good day in the fight to protect our environment for the generations of Americans still to come.”

-President Obama
December 21st, 2011
On EPA’s Mercury and Air Toxics Standards


Bonnie Lichak
Clean Air Rights for Eveyone of NY
2136 US 20
Nassau, NY 12123

This entry was posted in 1. Take Action, Comments against wood burning, Opinion, OWB regulation discussion (Federal), OWB regulations, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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