PA Bulletin: Outdoor Wood Burning is a Growing Source of Dangerous Emissions

October 17, 2009

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Excerpt: “The health effects associated with exposure to PM2.5 are significant. Epidemiological studies have shown a significant correlation between elevated PM2.5 levels and premature mortality. Other important health effects associated with PM2.5 exposure include aggravation of respiratory and cardiovascular disease (as indicated by increased hospital admissions, emergency room visits, absences from school or work and restricted activity days), lung disease, decreased lung function, asthma attacks and certain cardiovascular problems. Individuals particularly sensitive to PM2.5 exposure include older adults, people with heart and lung disease and children.

A significant and growing source of PM2.5 emissions in this Commonwealth is from OWBs. OWBs, also referred to as outdoor wood-fired furnaces, outdoor wood-burning appliances, or outdoor hydronic heaters, are free-standing fuel-burning devices designed: (1) to burn clean wood or other approved solid fuels; (2) specifically for outdoor installation or installation in structures not normally intended for habitation by humans or domestic animals, such as garages; and (3) to heat building space or water by means of distribution, typically through pipes, of a fluid heated in the device, typically water or a water and antifreeze mixture. OWBs are being sold to heat homes and buildings and to produce domestic hot water.

The emissions, health effects and the nuisance factor created by the use of OWBs are a major concern to the Department. The Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management has conducted stack tests on OWBs. Based on the test results, the average PM2.5 emissions from one OWB are equivalent to the emissions from 205 oil furnaces or as many as 8,000 natural gas furnaces. Cumulatively, the smallest OWB has the potential to emit almost 1 1/2 tons of PM every year. Of the estimated 155,000 OWBs sold Nationwide between 1990 and 2005, 95% were sold in 19 states, of which this Commonwealth is one.

Unlike indoor wood stoves that are regulated by the EPA, no Federal standards exist for OWBs and the majority of them are not equipped with pollution controls. The EPA has initiated a voluntary program that encourages manufacturers of OWBs to improve air quality through developing and distributing cleaner-burning, more efficient OWBs. Phase 1 of the program was in place from January 2007 through October 15, 2008. To qualify for Phase 1, manufacturers were required to develop an OWB model that was 70% cleaner-burning than unqualified models by meeting the EPA air emission standard of 0.6 pound PM per million Btu heat input as tested by an independent accredited laboratory. Phase 1 Partnership Agreements ended when the Phase 2 Partnership Agreements were initiated on October 16, 2008. To qualify for Phase 2, manufacturers must develop an OWB model that is 90% cleaner-burning than preprogram, unqualified OWBs and meet the EPA air emissions standard of 0.32 pound PM per million Btu heat output as tested by an independent accredited laboratory. The emission standard established in the proposed rulemaking would be the Phase 2 emission standard described in the EPA voluntary program.

The proposed rulemaking would help assure that the citizens of this Commonwealth will benefit from reduced emissions of PM2.5 from OWBs. Attaining and maintaining levels of PM2.5 below the health-based NAAQS is important to reduce premature mortality and other health effects associated with PM2.5 exposure. There are many citizen complaints regarding the operation of OWBs. This proposed rulemaking would reduce the problems associated with the operation of OWBs, including smoke, odors and burning prohibited fuels including garbage, tires, hazardous waste and the like. Reductions in ambient levels of PM2.5 would promote improved human and animal health and welfare, improved visibility, decreased soiling and materials damage and decreased damage to plants and trees.

While there are no Federal limits for the OWBs that would be subject to regulation under this proposed rulemaking, section 4.2 of the APCA authorizes the Board to adopt regulations more stringent than Federal requirements when the control measures are reasonably necessary to achieve and maintain the ambient air quality standards. See 35 P. S. § 4004.2. These measures are reasonably necessary to attain and maintain the primary and secondary 24-hour NAAQS for PM2.5 in this Commonwealth.”

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