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Proposed Wood Furnace Ban Provokes Controversy

by | Mar 8, 2010 4:21pm
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Posted to: Environment, Health Care, State Capitol

Rep. Richard Roy, D-Milford, had to halt an exchange over a ban on outdoor wood furnaces between the president of Environment and Human Health, Inc. and Rep. Bryan Hurlburt, D-Tolland, during a public hearing before the legislature’s Environment Committee Monday.

Nancy Alderman, EHHI’s president, was testifying in support of a bill that would ban outdoor wood furnaces for half the year and add woodsmoke to the state’s list of public health nuisances.

Hurlburt, vice-chair of the committee, had already pressed Alderman on whether more regulation was really needed. But when Hurlburt pointed out the advantages to wood as an energy source, Alderman interrupted: “We are not going to agree. The science is behind us.”

She said she would not take up anymore of the committee’s time because “there is no way we are going to be able to change your mind.”

Alderman apologized repeatedly after Roy, the committee’s co-chair, called her attention to the fact that she had interrupted Hurlburt.

In her testimony, she said that current law, which gives authority to local health directors to define public health nuisances, is too vague and is not enough to protect people.

“This lack of specification means that some local health directors will enforce woodsmoke issues under the present broad ‘nuisance’ provisions of the health code while many other local health directors will claim they do not have jurisdiction.” Alderman said.

But the Connecticut Association of Directors of Health, which represents local health directors, said that adding woodsmoke to the list of public health nuisances is itself too vague.

Rick Matheny, the group’s president and health director for the Farmington Valley Health District said the definition of woodsmoke is “so vague that it potentially places a local director of health in an untenable position.”

The local health directors believe that all woodsmoke is potentially harmful but, said Matheny, “If it is not the intent of the legislature to outlaw all woodsmoke, then who will make the judgment that a particular exposure, in fact, endangers the health of persons who live in the vicinity of the source of the smoke—and, more importantly, upon what basis?”

EHHI is concerned with woodsmoke from outdoor wood furnaces, but while the bill defines those, it does not define woodsmoke. An outdoor wood furnace or boiler burns wood to heat water which can then be used for home heating.

The bill would not ban fire pits, wood-fired barbecues, chimineas or indoor wood stoves. EHHI says that woodsmoke from outdoor wood furnaces is unique because the wood does not burn hot enough to burn completely. Outdoor wood furnaces look like small sheds with short smoke stacks.

Sen. Edward Meyer, D-Guilford, co-chair of the committee, told Alderman that woodsmoke needs to be better defined in the bill. “I think the first part of this bill needs to work because it could be ruled unconstitutional for vagueness.”

According to Alderman, plumes of smoke from outdoor wood furnaces can travel up to half a mile and will stay close to the ground because unburned particulates make the smoke heavy whereas chimney smoke rises into the atmosphere and dissipates. “Some people raise stacks but that doesn’t seem to help,” Alderman said in an interview last week.

Alderman would like to see the legislature adopt a complete ban of outdoor wood furnaces. Currently the bill would only ban the furnaces for six months from April 15 to Oct. 15.

She said the bill does not go far enough to protect the public. “It simply asks people not to use wood furnaces in the heat of the summer.”

“Some people were burning wood in the summer just to heat their water,” said Alderman. “In 90 degree weather, some were still emitting woodsmoke.”

Alderman said that woodsmoke contains carbon monoxide, carcinogens and other pollutants and exposure “is associated with a diverse range of harmful health effects, including asthmatic sensitivity, lung illnesses and cancer.”

EHHI released a study today as part of their testimony which found that woodsmoke is finding its way into neighboring homes.

Despite the health risks, EHHI supports the bill’s exemption for farmers. But Alderman asked the committee to include a provision for a 1,000-foot setback from property lines for new units. Currently, there is a 200-foot setback. Alderman said that she supports this exemption because “farmers have made their case that in these tough economic times the furnaces help reduce costs.”

However, state farm bureaus oppose the bill entirely. Steve Reviczky, executive director of the Connecticut Farm Bureau Association said his group “strongly supports use of alternative fuels, including the burning of wood” to heat buildings and provide hot water.

He said that while the state Department of Environmental Protection may have received a large number of complaints, “a good number of complaints focus on a few applications and the DEP has responded to those.”

DEP Commissioner Amey Marrella said in her written testimony to the committee that since 2005 her department has received 750 complaints regarding outdoor wood furnaces. But she said that when outdoor wood furnaces are set up in accordance with the law and burn only untreated wood, the appliances “can be an important source of heat energy for agriculture and other rural needs.”

Marrella noted that compliance can be costly for many outdoor wood furnace owners to the point that they may have to stop using them.  But in the end she pointed to health concerns and called for more stringent regulations to bring Connecticut in line with neighboring states.

Currently nine Connecticut towns ban wood furnaces: Granby, Tolland, Hebron, Woodbridge, South Windsor, Portland, Ridgefield, Norfolk and Haddam.

A similar bill died last year in committee.

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Comments

(13) Archived Comments

posted by: GAS | March 8, 2010  10:07pm

I OWN A OUTSIDE WOOD BOILER, ONLY USE IT DURING THE HEATING SEASON .  BY THE LOOKS OF THE PILE OF WOOD STACKED IN FRONT OF THE FURNACE SHOWN IT LOOKS TO BE PINE AND WOODEN SKIDS THE BEST THING TO BURN FOR ANTI WOOD STOVE PEOPLE TO USE FOR THEIR EXAMPLE.(PINE GIVES A GREAT AMOUNT OF SMOKE, MANY TIMES THAN HARDWOOD.BEEN THERE, TRIED IT, STOPPED IT )ANY SKIDS WITH OIL,PAINT OR VARNISH ON THEM ALSO MAKE GOOD EXAMPLES. A GOOD RULE OF THUMB IS IF YOU WOULDN’T BURN IT IN YOUR FIREPLACE DON’T BURN IT IN YOUR STOVE!!.

posted by: City Hall Watch | March 9, 2010  2:01pm

This is a silly and needless bill, a complete waste of time and Alderman’s assertion that “the science is behind us” is the same pseudo/psycho babble all the earth warmers hit us with when the inconvenient truth of their statements come to light. It’s renewable energy; there’s plenty of it; it doesn’t use fossil fuels nor does it require hundreds if not thousands of miles of trucking to get to our homes. It’s good excerise if you chop it up yourself and employs CT citizens if you don’t. The use of wood burning furnaces is not widespread and this legislation specifically allows fire pits, chimineas, wood stoves in your house and fireplaces. Where’s the reality check? Much ado about ahh nothing.

posted by: OutOfOutrage | March 9, 2010  5:02pm

OutOfOutrage

Yeah, this is what we need to spend our time on, inane regulations that further prevent the people from providing for themselves.  Brilliant.

posted by: lothar | March 9, 2010  5:16pm

Wow, city hall watch, you’re quite the understanding neighbor. And you’re a climate change/warming denier to boot?

It’s much ado about a possible carcinogen, is what it is. Much ado about unnecessary smog. Did you smoke in restaurants back in the day?

It’s also a public nuisance that has a significant impact on neighbors’ quality of life.

If my neighbor builds one of these and the smoke is in my house, then my neighbor shouldn’t have built it. Period.

We no longer live in a campfire society. If you’d like to go back to those good old days, you need to do so away from your neighbor. Maybe after the impending apocalypse caused by those awful liberals I’ll be OK with smoke wafting over me while I’m eating dinner or sleeping. But until then, if someone burns wood and the smoke is continually wafting across my home, I’m not going to be forced to keep my windows or my mouth shut. Instead I’ll drive a truck right over their smelly stove.

Now that’s mighty neighborly.

This is really a simple discussion - don’t blow smog into your neighbor’s property.

posted by: City Hall Watch | March 9, 2010  7:53pm

Lothar:
You can’t control which way the wind blows. Sorry. And your statement said it all…“possible carcinogen.” Has anybody of repute studied this? Or are we wasting time hand wringing over what may or may not be true? If you’re going to outlaw outdoor furnaces, then why not indoor stoves? Chimineas? Or fire pits? There was some nutcase last legislative season from Milford who wanted to outlaw his neighbor’s fire pit. People should just mind their own business.

Since all the tree huggers don’t want us burning wood; and they don’t want us to use oil; I guess we’re supposed to just put on extra blankets and put a windmil over our house and hope for a breeze.

posted by: GAS | March 9, 2010  9:11pm

lothar;
    GLOBAL WARMING YEA!!!  BRING IT ON. I WON’T HAVE TO BURN WOOD OR PLOW MY DRIVEWAY.YOUR PROBLEM SOLVED!!! THAT WAS EASY

posted by: lothar | March 10, 2010  12:16am

Apparently the DEP says it’s possibly carcinogenic… also there have been more than 700 complaints filed about these things.

http://www.courant.com/news/opinion/editorials/hc-plc-condon-wood-furnaces.artjan24,0,6406741.column

And as a matter of fact, if a neighbor builds a fire pit and the smoke blows onto my property, I am within my rights to call the town and they can come out and douse the flame - because my property and quality of life also matter, rather than only the rights and belligerence of the take-on-all-comers libertarians out there.

posted by: DrHunterSThompson | March 10, 2010  7:39am

don’t we have fiscal issues to solve in this short session?

perhaps woodstoves and paid days off could wait?

HST

posted by: lothar | March 10, 2010  6:07pm

don’t worry hunter… there’s more than enough people and committees available to do both, particularly when there’s a public health/property rights issue getting worse every time someone buys another one of these stoves - particularly if they’re using the wrong burning materials as Mr. Gas points out in the first comment.

Most of the legislature is only going to vote on the budget in its final form anyway so there’s plenty of time to discuss this in committee and up until the budget bill actually comes to the floor of the house and/or senate.

posted by: GAS | March 10, 2010  9:08pm

lothar;  Went to your web sight you gave , I saw it already last year around the start of heating season.I think it was in the
Torrington Register, or Waterbury Rep. I told her she ought to sue,
I guess she didn’t. As Amey wrote in this article wood stoves could be beneficial if only the right materials were burnt ,brings us to what I said in the beginning. Why, Why punish the burners that have their neighbor in mind and don’t burn garbage ?? Also I do agree with Hunter there are thousands of unemployed in Ct. don’t you think their more important at present?

posted by: lothar | March 11, 2010  1:55pm

hi gas… you made a good point about materials. People using the wrong materials are likely polluting more, or worse, producing actual toxic smoke. While I appreciate your investment and all, if your smoke was crossing my property at ground level and entering my home, I frankly wouldn’t care if the entire state was unemployed. I would just want it to stop. I’m guessing you’d feel the same way.

posted by: GAS | March 11, 2010  7:42pm

lothar; I DO HAVE NEIGHBORS, ONE ALSO HAS A OUTSIDE WOOD BOILER, AND ONE HAS A INDOOR WOOD STOVE. WE ALL GET ALONG, WE WAVE TO EACH OTHER. BELIEVE IT OR NOT MY NEIGHBORS INSIDE WOOD STOVE GIVES OFF MORE SMOKE THAN OURS. HE BURNS GOOD WOOD AND HAS HAD THE FIRE DEPARTMENT OVER TWO TIMES THAT I KNOW OF.  WE DON’T HAVE THAT PROBLEM, IT’S NOT ATTACHED TO THE HOUSE, INSURANCE COMPANIES LOVE THAT.GETTING BACK TO YOUR POINT OF SMOKE GOING ACROSS YOUR PROPERTY. THATS WHY I ONLY BURN THE STOVE DURING HEATING SEASON.ANY SMOKE GIVEN OFF IN COOLER TEMPERATURES RISES HIGHER. DURING THE SUMMER MONTHS EVEN THOUGH I ONLY BURN’T ONE OR TWO PIECES A WOOD A DAY TO HEAT MY HOT WATER THE SMOKE DIDN’T RISE AND JUST SETTLED IN THE YARD. IT’S LIKE ANYTHING ELSE,THERE ARE ALWAYS PEOPLE WHO ARE GOING TO ABUSE WHAT THEY HAVE, AND SPOIL IT FOR EVERYONE ELSE.I HATE POLITICS BUT I WILL SAY THAT OUR POLITICIANS
DON’T HAVE THE B—-S TO GO AFTER PEOPLE THAT ABUSE WHAT THEY HAVE ,IT’S EASIER TO MAKE A LAW TO TAKE IT AWAY FROM EVERYONE.

posted by: lothar | March 12, 2010  2:56pm

Gas - That’s excellent information. Thanks for sharing… it certain seems like there’s room for discussion on the topic.

It’s also very considerate of you to try to restrict your use of the stove to the cold months. I tend to agree that an overall ban is heavy handed on most any topic. I think there would be some problems or costs with enforcement issues, but those would probably be restricted to the beginning period of ownership and eventually anyone who uses an outdoor stove would figure out when to burn and when not to burn.

I actually think that there’s probably a reasonable way to filter the smoke a bit to minimize it as well. A filter of some kind would be a good thing to add to the manufacturing process. These things are fairly large and likely expensive anyway, but again you’re going to save money in the long run so why not.