EPA moves to regulate new wood stoves

The Environmental Protection Agency moved Friday to curb emissions of particles and gases from residential wood stoves and other wood-fired heaters built in 2015 or later, an effort to combat pollutants that can present a significant health hazard in parts of the country.

The proposed new rules would require manufacturers of wood stoves, wood-pellet stoves, forced-air wood furnaces, wood boilers, fireplace inserts and masonry heaters to build a generation of devices that burn 80 percent more cleanly than current models. The rules would go into effect in 2015 and become more strict after five years, though the EPA is asking whether they should be phased in over eight years instead.

The new rules do not apply to wood heaters already in use or to residential fireplaces, backyard fire containers or fire pits used by campers and beachgoers. Nor do they apply to smokers, wood-fired barbecues or pizza ovens.

“Particulate matter is a big health issue,” said Alison Davis, an EPA senior adviser. It has been linked to heart attacks and strokes and can aggravate asthma. A number of studies have linked it to premature death among people who suffer from heart and lung disease, she said.

Other pollutants in wood smoke include carbon monoxide and organic compounds that contribute to smog.

About 11.5 million U.S. homes use wood for heat, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. The EPA estimates that 85,695 wood stoves will be manufactured and sold in 2015.

In places where wood is commonly used for heat, communities are occasionally forced to issue “no-burn” alerts when the concentration of particles in the air becomes too high. Utah banned the use of wood-burning stoves in five counties last month when weather conditions led to high levels of fine particles in the air. Wood is a popular heat source in parts of New England, the upper Midwest and the Northwest.

Clean air and lung health advocates cheered Friday’s proposal. “This is a very important step towards protecting public health, particularly in areas where residential wood burning is widespread,” said Frank O’Donnell, president of Clean Air Watch, a nonprofit advocacy group. The American Lung Association said it welcomed the proposed new standards, and both organizations noted that they come many years after the EPA was required to update the original 1988 standards for some wood stoves in 1996. The delay led to lawsuits by a variety of groups.

Devices other than wood stoves would be regulated for the first time under the EPA’s new proposal.

John Crouch, director of public affairs for the Hearth, Patio and Barbecue Association, said his organization agrees that new standards are overdue but is concerned that EPA laboratory testing does not reflect the way wood stoves and heaters are used by consumers. Most particle pollution occurs because the majority of wood stoves are old and because consumers do not use wood that has been sufficiently dried, he said.

“We’re not opposed to revision,” Crouch said. “We just want to make sure that this revision delivers some difference in people’s homes, and we’re not sure the data shows that.”

Lenny Bernstein writes the To Your Health blog. He started as an editor on the Post’s National Desk in 2000 and has worked in Metro and Sports.
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