Monday, January 6, 2014

EPA Continues to Save the World- Regulating Wood Stoves and Fireplaces

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing new standards for the amount of air pollution that can be emitted by residential wood stoves and heaters, beginning in 2015. There will be a public hearing Feb. 26, 2014 in Boston. EPA expects to issue a final wood stove rule in 2015, the full 354 pages of the proposed regulation can be read at this link if you are interested.

The EPA’s proposal covers wood stoves, fireplace inserts, indoor and outdoor wood boilers (also called hydronic heaters), forced air furnaces and masonry heaters, and is intended to make the next generation of wood stoves, fireplaces and heaters 80% cleaner than those manufactured or built today. The current proposal would not affect heaters, fireplaces and stoves already in use in homes today.

These regulations are intended to reduce the health impacts of fine particle pollution, of which wood smoke is a contributing factor in some areas. Residential wood smoke contains fine particles with a diameter of 2.5 micrometers or less, carbon monoxide, toxic air pollutants such as benzene and formaldehyde, and what the EPA calls climate-forcing emissions– greenhouse gases resulting from combustion and incomplete combustion. According to the EPA, smoke from wood stoves and fireplaces contributes hundreds of thousands of tons of fine particles during the winter months, which I suppose is not surprising given the sheer number of households in the nation.

Particle pollution has been linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. In some areas, residential wood smoke makes up a significant portion of the fine particle pollution problem. According to the proposed regulations, residential wood combustion accounts for 44% of the total remaining stationary and mobile polycyclic organic matter (POM) emissions, nearly 25% of the remaining air toxics cancer risks and 15 % of non-cancer respiratory such as irritation of the airways, coughing or difficulty breathing and aggravated asthma.

Health effects can result from both short-term and long-term exposure to particulate pollution. People most sensitive to particulate pollution include infants and children, the elderly, and people with existing heart and lung disease. The smallest particles can penetrate deepest, causing the greatest harm. Researchers are still trying to identify which types and sources of particles are most hazardous to human health. Though, particles created from combustion soot tend to be fine particles with diameters smaller than 2.5 microns (PM 2.5) which are the most dangerous because it lodges in the lungs.

Reportedly, residential wood smoke causes many counties in the U.S. to exceed the US EPA annual PM2.5 air quality standard which was lowered in 2012 (thought states have until 2020 to meet the tighter standard). The annual standard for the smallest particles is 12 ug/m3 and 24-hr standard is 35 ug/m3. In 2012 when EPA promulgated the revised standard, they projected that 99% of U.S. counties with monitoring stations would meet the standard with only 7 counties in California failing to meet the Annual Fine Particle Health Standard of 12 μg/m3. Now the EPA states “residential wood smoke causes many counties in the U.S. to either exceed the EPA’s ... national ambient air quality standards... for fine particles or places them on the cusp of exceeding those standards.” So now to continue down the road on their quest for continual reductions in pollution levels despite growing population, EPA must increase regulation on residential fireplaces and wood stoves. The EPA states that they “continue to encourage state, local, tribal, and consumer efforts to replace older heaters with newer, cleaner, more efficient heaters, but that is not part of this federal rulemaking.” Wait until next year.

Below is the list of air quality rules that have resulted in the tremendous improvement in air quality from 2000-2010. The next level in clean air will have to regulate every home and individual behavior and choices.
  • Heavy Duty Diesel Rule (U.S. EPA, 2000)
  • Clean Air Non-road Diesel Rule (U.S. EPA, 2004)
  • Regional Haze Regulations and Guidelines for Best Available Retrofit Technology Determinations (U.S. EPA, 2005b)
  • NOx Emission Standard for New Commercial Aircraft Engines (U.S. EPA, 2005)
  • Emissions Standards for Locomotives and Marine Compression-Ignition Engines (U.S. EPA, 2008)
  • Control of Emissions for Non-road Spark Ignition Engines and Equipment (U.S. EPA, 2008)
  • C3 Oceangoing Vessels (U.S. EPA, 2010)
  • Hospital/Medical/Infectious Waste Incinerators: New Source Performance Standards and Emission Guidelines: Final Rule Amendments (U.S. EPA, 2009)
  • Reciprocating Internal Combustion Engines (RICE) NESHAPs (U.S. EPA, 2010)
  • Mercury and Air Toxics Standards (U.S. EPA, 2011)
  • Cross-State Air Pollution Rule (U.S. EPA, 2011)
  • National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) for fine particles (U.S. EPA, 2012)
  • Carbon Dioxide Standard for Power Plants (U.S. EPA, 2012 and 2013)

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