Residents from Newtown and across the state who have filed complaints about outdoor wood-burning furnaces in their neighborhoods with a state-based environmental advocacy organization may be breathing easier soon.
The American Lung Association of the Northeast, the Sierra Club of Connecticut, and Environment and Human Health, Inc (EHH) are submitting a legal petition to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) asking that agency to set regulatory air standards for residential wood smoke emissions.
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment has also submitted a letter to the CT DEEP calling for strong action from the agency on this issue.
Residential wood-burning devices, including outdoor wood furnaces and indoor wood stoves, are emitting hazardous air pollutants that pose well-documented health risks to those that are exposed to their emissions.
The CT DEEP has generated a map that documents the wood smoke complaints that have come to it from all over the state from people who are being harmed by their neighbor’s wood smoke. This map clearly shows how widespread the wood smoke emissions problem is in Connecticut.
Among the complainants is Newtowner Richard Creaturo, who lives on South Main Street.
“There is an outdoor wood furnace 100 feet from my home,” Mr Creaturo wrote in a 2010 filing with EHH. “It is comforting to know I am not the only one living this nightmare. The outdoor wood furnace is less than 100 feet from my house (and it’s huge!) The smoke gets into our house. The smoke smells like an old apartment house incinerator!! It’s disgusting.”
In neighboring Weston, Suzan Converse wrote that a neighbor across the street operates an outdoor wood furnace and it has become “an extreme disturbance and problem in our lives.”
“Once he begins using his furnace in the fall I can no longer open my windows to get fresh air, in fact, my house is always contaminated by his wood smoke,” she wrote. “I also cannot hang any laundry out on my line because it will get completely smoked out and thus I am forced to use more energy with my clothes dryer.”
Ms Converse stated that the people who sold her family their home moved because one of the owners had a terminal lung condition to the extent that he used oxygen. She wondered if the localized wood furnace emissions exacerbated the former homeowner’s health situation.
No Current Rules
Currently, Connecticut has no air standards that pertain to residential wood smoke emissions, and therefore the people that are burning wood can put out as much smoke in a neighborhood as they choose.
Outdoor wood furnaces (OWFs) are particularly polluting. The CT DEEP’s own fact sheet about OWFs says “they are harmful to the environment and to human health and they produce a lot of thick smoke which, in addition to being a nuisance to neighbors, has serious health and air pollution impacts.”
David Brown, ScD, public health toxicologist, states that, “Connecticut has not been able to address the serious health issues of wood smoke exposures. Complaints from people being harmed by breathing in their neighbor’s wood smoke have come into the DEEP from all corners of the state. It is time for Connecticut to adopt wood smoke air standards that will help protect the public’s health, much as the State of Washington has done.”
Today, in Connecticut and in many states, there are many families being made sick from breathing in wood smoke on a continual basis from neighbors’ wood burning.
Among the related ailments are asthma, sinusitis, and pneumonia.
Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc, said, “Wood smoke has become the new ‘second-hand-smoke’ and must begin to be regulated in a way that protects the public’s health.”
She said in a release that many who are exposed to the emissions report they are spending large amounts of money on health-related illnesses to the wood smoke exposures, and that they cannot sell their homes due to the wood smoke that surrounds their properties and gets into their homes.
Seymour resident William Kusmit wrote to EEH saying that he and his wife continue to experience problems from being in contact with and breathing the exhaust from a neighbor’s wood-burning device.
“This results in physical symptoms such as causing eyes to burn, congestion, and chest discomfort,” according to Mr Kusmit. “The congestion and chest discomfort lasts for several days. I am also concerned about the long-term health consequences of being exposed to this smoke. I have coronary artery disease and my wife has multiple sclerosis.”
Statutes ‘Long Overdue’
The Seymour couple follow strict guidelines to try to maintain their health but are nonetheless exposed to the toxic elements of wood smoke, which adds to their health problems.
“I believe the time for laws governing wood smoke emissions is long overdue,” Mr Kusmit wrote. “I have done what I can to try to keep the smoke out of the house such as putting plastic over the door going into the garage, sealing windows etc. but of course when we open the front door the smoke comes right into the house. My wife and I have had to wear masks when going from the house to the car because of the strong exhaust fumes.
“I feel as though we are being poisoned by the smoke from my neighbor’s woodstove and there is nothing in Connecticut law to help us,” he added.
“Wood smoke particles are so small that windows and doors cannot keep them out,” Ms Alderman stated. “This is why people are exposed to wood smoke in their homes and why they cannot find relief.”
Edward Miller, senior vice president for public policy at American Lung, Northeast, said wood smoke has many of the same components as cigarette smoke.
“Yet, cigarette smoke is highly regulated, while wood smoke is almost completely unregulated. This must stop,” he said
The petition to the CT DEEP asks that it adopt wood smoke air regulations similar to those that the State of Washington has had for many years.
Ms Alderman and many supporters of emissions standards believe that if Washington State can enact standards, it indicates that standards for Connecticut are reasonable and attainable.
“If Connecticut fails to promulgate wood smoke air standards, it will mean that homeowners will continue to install hundreds of wood-burning appliances that are far more polluting and harmful than they would be if heath protective wood smoke air standards were in place,” Ms Alderman said.
By state statute, DEEP has 30 days to either deny the petition (providing written reasons for doing so) or initiate a rule-making proceeding. The petition went to the DEEP on Tuesday, February 4.