Wednesday, June 9, 2010

To Burn or Not to Burn?

Martin Holladay explores the environmental and public health pros and cons of burning wood for heating a home in his very informative report. What's wrong with burning wood? one might ask. 

It seems so intuitive. While wood is an abundant and renewable resource, the burning of wood emits "some toxic air pollutants, fine particle pollution, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOC), and a group of toxic air pollutants known as polycyclic organic matter [including] benzo(a)pyrene, which may cause cancer," according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The EPA reports that "Just 20 old non-EPA certified wood stoves can emit more than 1 ton of fine particles into your community during the cold months of the year." 

Pellet Stoves, which burn a renewable fuel made of ground, dried wood and other biomass wastes compressed into pellet, usually use electricity (unlike a fireplace or wood stove), but do not need to be EPA approved, because of their relatively low emissions. 

Mr. Holladay concludes that "The deleterious effects of wood smoke on human health are a serious concern. However, wood smoke is much less likely to cause health problems in sparsely populated rural areas than in densely populated areas.....Because of the health problems associated with wood smoke, wood burning is inappropriate in densely populated town and cities. Wood burning is also inappropriate in areas where forests are threatened."

Luckily, we may not need to worry about turning on a wood stove for a while (unless the Pacific Northwest's "June-uary" gets any worse) but if you are planning on building or remodeling this summer, here is where to find a list of wood stoves certified by the EPA. (An EPA approval is required in Washington State).

View the full article from the EPA "Reducing Air Pollution from: Residential Wood Burning." 9/12/05

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