Saving Money By Burning Wood Is A Stinky Idea
Council may ban fireplaces,
Traditional open-hearth fireplaces in new homes and remodels in Santa Rosa could be outlawed if the Santa Rosa City Council follows through with a proposal it is considering.
The council agreed to consider the legislation after a citizen complained about the unhealthy fireplace-generated smoke he said hovers over his Rincon Valley neighborhood, and earlier inquiries by Councilwoman Marsha Vas Dupre about whether fireplaces were allowed in new construction.
While council members agreed to move ahead Tuesday, Councilwoman Janet Condron said the proposal comes at an inopportune time, when people are seeking cheaper heating sources in the face of escalating energy bills.
"It's an interesting time to bring this forward," she said.
Mayor Mike Martini, who originally thought the idea would go nowhere, said he began to change his mind after recently learning about the inefficiency of the traditional fireplace and the health impacts of fireplace smoke.
"An open-face, old-fashioned fireplace is one of the worst sources of heat. It looks nice, but most of the heat goes up the chimney," said Martini.
And, according to the nine-county Bay Area Air Quality Management District, so does much of the smoke, ash and other particulates that help make winter air hazardous to breathe.
Air Quality District spokesman Will Taylor said fireplaces and wood-burning stoves generate 4 tons of airborne particulates in Sonoma County on the average winter day, 10 times more than that generated by all the motorized vehicles in the county.
Taylor said Santa Rosa's airborne particulate count exceeded state standards six days during the winter of 1999.
Jenny Bard, spokeswoman for the Redwood Empire Chapter of the American Lung Association, said particulate matter is most worrisome for those with breathing problems and lung diseases.
"It is among the most harmful of all air pollutants. It gets inhaled deep into the lungs," she said.
Martini said the council likely will consider the ban in two to three weeks. "At this point, we need to gather all the information we can," he said.
So far, the cities of Petaluma and Cotati, as well as those areas under the jurisdiction of the North Sonoma Air Quality Management District -- Windsor, Cloverdale, Healdsburg and the west county -- have adopted some form of ban on wood-burning fireplaces and stoves.
The bans generally outlaw the installation of open-hearth, wood-burning fireplaces and wood stoves in new construction.
They do allow use of low-polluting wood stoves and inserts in fireplaces approved by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, as well as fireplaces fueled by natural gas.
Charlie Carson, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Northern California, said fireplaces are like mom and apple pie to homeowners.
"Nationally, a fireplace is among the top five amenities new home purchasers expect to see," he said.
That includes those living in the milder climates of California, Carson said.
"Even out here, while people don't need it for heat, they expect to see it. It literally adds a warmer touch to any home, whether the flame comes from burning wood or burning gas," he said.
Carson said a quick survey of Santa Rosa builders indicates nearly all of the homes being built include a fireplace, mostly the wood-burning variety.
Martini said the council's focus likely will be to balance comfort and health.
"What we are saying is not that you can't have an alternative source of heat but that your alternate source of heat can't impact the rest of the community," he said.
Martini said the chances are minimal the council would enact a law that would retroactively affect current open-hearth fireplaces, but said it would have severe consequences for him if it was.
"It will knock out the romance in our home," he said.
© 2000 The Press Democrat
Letter to the Mayor and City Council:
The Honorable Michael
Dear Mr. Mayor,
It is with interest that I read the article in yesterday's The Press Democrat about the City Council's considering the ban on wood burning stoves and open fireplaces in new construction and remodels (Council may ban fireplaces, wood stoves, January 4, 2001).
I used to enjoy the smell of a wood fire and the sight of glowing logs. Then, I developed an autoimmune disease that irrevocably altered my life. Among the many changes, I am now highly susceptible to respiratory tract inflammation due to wood smoke.
For the past several years, once the chilly days and nights of fall settle in, just going back and forth from my front door to the sidewalk to get my mail results in my coughing for several minutes. I have to keep my windows closed all the time to keep out the smoke from my neighbors' fireplaces. On the coldest of days, or weekends when everyone is home, the smell of smoke is so strong inside my closed-up home that I move restlessly from room to room to make sure nothing in my house is on fire. At times I actually have to wear a filtration mask inside just to be able to breathe.
It is bad enough that I usually have to wear a mask when I go out into public because of the fragranced products people wear. I should not have to wear a mask just to be able to breathe safely in my home or in my own backyard.
Along with banning fireplaces and wood-burning stoves in new construction and remodels, why not institute an incentive program to upgrade to less polluting devices for people who currently have highly polluting wood-burning sources. Without such a program, there will be no incentive for people who are currently responsible for the smoke pollution to make any changes, and so there will effectively be no change in the existing air quality problems associated with such point sources of pollution. This will mean that those of us who currently suffer health problems related to the smoke pollution will continue to be sicker during the cold weather and the city and county will continue to have problems meeting the state air quality standards.
Finally, another thing to take into consideration is that what goes up, must come down. Particulate matter doesn't stay airborne forever. It not only settles as "dust" in our homes, but it settles on our rivers and streams causing pollution, and it falls on our crops and works its way into the soil in which they are grown. Just because wood is a plant doesn't make its particulates safe when it lands on organic and other farm soil and crops.
Thank you for your attention to this matter.
Follow-up Letters to City Council
The Honorable Michael
Dear Mayor Martini and Members of the City Council,
I previously wrote to you in January of last year about the health problems many Santa Rosa residents experience every fall, winter and spring as a result of wood being burned in fireplaces and woodburning devices that do not adequately remove particulate pollutants from the vented smoke and fumes.
In November, the council's appointed committee presented its recommendations that you then ordered to be drafted into an ordinance. From what I have read of the recommendations and proposed ordinance, the city council members' discussion and public comments by interested business parties, the council seems to be losing sight of some key issues:
1. Air pollution caused by existing woodburning fireplaces and appliances has already caused new health problems in previously healthy individuals, and continues to exacerbate existing health problems or create new ones for people already suffering from respiratory and heart disease.
2. Efforts need to be made to prevent further increases in air pollution not only by regulating the types of appliances that may be placed in new construction but by mandating such devices be placed in homes that are being remodeled.
3. Air pollution created by Santa Rosa residents doesn't stay within the city boundaries of Santa Rosa. Pollution crosses city and county borders, and so efforts also need to be made to work with other cities and county agencies to not only prevent increases over the current level of woodburning-related pollution, but to reduce the existing level of such pollution.
Our county is largely agricultural, with vineyards and farms and a variety of farm animals, some raised for food, others for pets or use in tourist-related businesses. It would be more than foolish to think that the existing high level of smoke-related particulate matter is not affecting crops and animals outside our city limits.
You have both read letters and articles, and heard testimony about woodburning pollution and its now being linked with increases in the onset of child and adult asthma. You have heard from residents such as myself being harmed by the smoke, not only when we venture outside, but the smoke invades our home, getting in through vents and closed windows. It is bad enough being unable to participate in any outdoor activities during the peak woodburning season, but we have been for over a year now unable to escape the smoke in our own homes.
In my public statement to the Council last year, I mentioned a fact I found startling when I came across it when writing a research paper on air pollution in 1991: it takes only 24 hours for pesticides sprayed on Georgia cotton crops to land on Isle Royale in the northern end of Lake Superior. Those of us affected by woodsmoke are not just being affected by our immediate neighbor's wood fire, but by all wood fires upwind of us.
If that doesn't give those of you who have voted to weaken the proposed ordinance, and who gave scant attention to those citizens whose quality of life has already been harmed by woodburning pollution, perhaps you will be interested in the following two studies recently published:
1. Lung Cancer, Cardiopulmonary Mortality, and Long-term Exposure to Fine Particulate Air Pollution, recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association:
C. Arden Pope III, PhD; Richard T. Burnett, PhD; Michael J. Thun, MD; Eugenia E. Calle, PhD; Daniel Krewski, PhD; Kazuhiko Ito, PhD; George D. Thurston, ScD. Department of Economics, Brigham Young University, 142 FOB, Provo, UT 84602. . JAMA. 2002;287:1132-1141
Context: Associations have been found between day-to-day particulate air pollution and increased risk of various adverse health outcomes, including cardiopulmonary mortality. However, studies of health effects of long-term particulate air pollution have been less conclusive. Objective: To assess the relationship between long-term exposure to fine particulate air pollution and all-cause, lung cancer, and cardiopulmonary mortality. Design, Setting, and Participants: Vital status and cause of death data were collected by the American Cancer Society as part of the Cancer Prevention II study, an ongoing prospective mortality study, which enrolled approximately 1.2 million adults in 1982. Participants completed a questionnaire detailing individual risk factor data (age, sex, race, weight, height, smoking history, education, marital status, diet, alcohol consumption, and occupational exposures). The risk factor data for approximately 500 000 adults were linked with air pollution data for metropolitan areas throughout the United States and combined with vital status and cause of death data through December 31, 1998. Main Outcome Measure: All-cause, lung cancer, and cardiopulmonary mortality. Results: Fine particulate and sulfur oxide-related pollution were associated with all-cause, lung cancer, and cardiopulmonary mortality. Each 10-µg/m3 elevation in fine particulate air pollution was associated with approximately a 4%, 6%, and 8% increased risk of all-cause, cardiopulmonary, and lung cancer mortality, respectively. Measures of coarse particle fraction and total suspended particles were not consistently associated with mortality. Conclusion: Long-term exposure to combustion-related fine particulate air pollution is an important environmental risk factor for cardiopulmonary and lung cancer mortality.
2. Use of an index
to reflect the aggregate burden of long-term exposure to criteria air
pollutants in the United States.
Air pollution control in the United States for five common pollutants--particulate matter, ground-level ozone, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and carbon monoxide--is based partly on the attainment of ambient air quality standards that represent a level of air pollution regarded as safe. Regulatory and health agencies often focus on whether standards for short periods are attained; the number of days that standards are exceeded is used to track progress. Efforts to explain air pollution to the public often incorporate an air quality index that represents daily concentrations of pollutants. While effects of short-term exposures have been emphasized, research shows that long-term exposures to lower concentrations of air pollutants can also result in adverse health effects. We developed an aggregate index that represents long-term exposure to these pollutants, using 1995 monitoring data for metropolitan areas obtained from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's Aerometric Information Retrieval System. We compared the ranking of metropolitan areas under the proposed aggregate index with the ranking of areas by the number of days that short-term standards were exceeded. The geographic areas with the highest burden of long-term exposures are not, in all cases, the same as those with the most days that exceeded a short-term standard. We believe that an aggregate index of long-term air pollution offers an informative addition to the principal approaches currently used to describe air pollution exposures; further work on an aggregate index representing long-term exposure to air pollutants is warranted.
I thank you for allowing me to once again take your time with this matter. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.
American Lung Association, April 2000
WHY IS WOODBURNING
AN AIR POLLUTION PROBLEM?
Fireplaces and woodstoves, and even special equipment such as wood pellet combustors and EPA Phase II Certified woodstoves, produce orders of magnitude more particulate matter than well-tuned oil or gas devices producing equivalent heat. Moreover, woodstoves routinely produce several times more air pollutants than original design values simply because of improper operation (including their misuse as incinerators for residential refuse), maintenance, and normal equipment degradation with use.
In addition to particulate matter, woodsmoke emissions contain components such as carbon monoxide; various irritant gases such as nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, and formaldehyde; and chemicals known or suspected to be carcinogens, such as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), and dioxin.
Monitoring of airborne particulate matter and PAH levels in many residential areas across the country shows that exposure to these pollutants is consistent with the use pattern of residential wood combustion. The sites studied are far from industrial sources and the times of maximum pollutant levels do not correlate with local traffic activity. Outdoor PAH levels in such residential areas have reached 2 micrograms per cubic meter during holiday evenings - comparable to the maximum recorded PAH concentrations in secondhand tobacco smoke.
Studies have also shown that people using woodburning devices to heat their homes can be routinely exposed to excessive levels of fine particulate matter in their indoor air.
WHAT ARE THE HEALTH
The health effects of woodsmoke exposure include increased respiratory symptoms, increased hospital admissions for lower respiratory infections, exacerbation of asthma, and decreased breathing ability. Population studies have shown that young children, the elderly, and people with preexisting cardiopulmonary disease are most likely to be affected.
As a major contributor to particulate matter air pollution, woodsmoke can also be linked directly with a variety of other particulate matter-associated health effects, including increased risks of school absenteeism, emergency room visits and hospitalizations for cardiopulmonary conditions and premature death.
WHAT ARE THE SOLUTIONS?
For consumers who are considering replacing their wood-burning appliances with gas-burning appliances, ALA recommends choosing vented appliances whenever possible, to minimize potential indoor air quality problems.
If you must burn wood, here are a few important steps to reduce harmful emissions from your fireplace or woodstoves:
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