EPA revising wood stove regs

Federal environmental regulators have issued tougher rules for residential wood-burning devices, ending long-standing criticism from states that contend the agency’s 25-year-old emissions limits are outdated.

The Environmental Protection Agency, which will conduct a public hearing in Boston this month on its proposed Wood Stove Air Pollution Standards, would limit emissions from new wood stoves and other residential wood heaters, beginning with those manufactured and sold next year. The agency estimates its proposed standards would make the next generation of woodstoves and heaters 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today, resulting in cleaner air and improved public health.

The proposal would not affect wood heaters and stoves now in use in homes or being sold in stores.

Fine particulate pollution is made up of solid particles and liquid droplets that measure 2.5 micrometers in diameter or less. The EPA, which now certifies non-catalytic wood stoves if they produce less than 7.5 grams of fine particulate per hour, would see that reduced to 4.5 grams per hour for stoves manufactured after the regulations go into place next year, with that limit reducing to 1.3 grams per hour when the standards tighten in 2019.

The new standards would affect pellet stoves as well as wood stoves and fireplace inserts.

Outdoor wood boilers, which now have limits imposed by the state Department of Environmental Protection at 7.5 grams per hour, would be limited under the EPA’s new rule at 0.32 pounds per million BTU heat output after the new rule is published and reduced to 0.06 pounds per million BTUs in 2019.

Fine particulates have been linked to heart attacks and reduced lung function, both of which can cause premature death.

In 1988, EPA concluded that pollutants in wood smoke endanger public health and that residential wood heaters must be regulated. The agency also set a performance standard limit for soot emissions by these devices. At the same time, EPA exempted heating devices that fall under the category of “boilers.” These 1988 standards remain on the books today, despite the development of much cleaner-burning stoves and the proliferation of outdoor wood boilers for residential heating. Some states, including Massachusetts, sued over this, citing 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.

After the EPA issued a voluntary program encouraging manufacturers to make the outdoor “hydronic heaters” cleaner, some redesigned their products, making them 90 percent cleaner, the agency said in releasing its new standards earlier this year, with more than 40 models already meeting  EPA’s qualification requirements.

“When these standards are fully implemented, EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to comply with these standards, the American public will see between $118 and $267 in health benefits,” the agency said in releasing its new standards in January. “Consumers will also see a monetary benefit from efficiency improvements in the new wood stoves, which use less wood to heat homes. The total health and economic benefits of the proposed standards are estimated to be at $1.8 (billion) to $2.4 billion annually.”

Outdoor wood boilers have not come under EPA regulation, and the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has been among those pressing the federal agency to publish new regulations.

Glen Ayers, regional health agent for the Franklin County Cooperative Public Health Service, said it remains to be seen whether Massachusetts will update its own rules disallowing outdoor furnaces that fail to meet the new federal standards from being installed in the state.

Although the American Lung Association, which also sued the EPA to issue the new regulations, hasn’t yet released its analysis of the new regulations, organization spokeswoman Janice Nolen said, “We’re delighted that the EPA has issued the proposal. We think they’re long overdue.”

While no hearings are scheduled for this area on the proposed standards, the EPA is accepting public comments for 90 days from their Jan. 3 publication.

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You can reach Richie Davis at rdavis@recorder.com or 413-772-0261, ext. 269

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