Tag Archives: wood smoke

SURVEY: Wood Smoke Activist Experience And Perception Study

– by Dr. Michael Mehta, Thompson Rivers University

wood-smoke_science-nordic

Photo: Science Nordic

This study will explore how wood smoke activists from around the world have engaged in advocacy work to improve local air quality.

SURVEY LINK: https://www.surveymonkey.ca/r/wood_smoke_activists

This research will provide such individuals with a comprehensive review of their situation and how it differs from others.

The research also expands on social movements research by examining a new and emerging class of actors who have been relatively ignored in the social science literature.

You must be at least 18 years of age to participate in this study.

The study is being performed by Dr. Michael Mehta at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops, British Columbia, Canada. Dr. Mehta is a Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies, and he is cross-listed with the Department of Sociology and Anthropology. He can be reached by email at mmehta@tru.ca or by telephone at (250) 852-7275 for any questions that you may have about this study.

Read more

[WINTER 2017/2018] Inside the EPA-Certified Wood Stove Debate

To access this issue, please subscribe to quarterly issues of The Biomass Monitor

[WINTER 2017/2018] Inside the EPA-Certified Wood Stove Debate

FEATURE ARTICLE: Can EPA Wood Stoves Cut Indoor Air Pollution?

OPINION (PRO): EPA Wood Stoves Reduce Air Emissions

OPINION (CON): EPA Wood Stoves Still Pollute

[EXCLUSIVE] The Future of Biomass Energy in Vermont

– by Josh Schlossberg, October 14, 2016, The Vermont Independent

Vermont’s 2016 Comprehensive Energy Plan (CEP) aims for a statewide transition to ninety percent renewable energy by 2050 while “virtually eliminating reliance on oil.”

To help reach these goals, the state seeks to cut energy consumption by fifteen percent by 2015 and by over one-third by 2050 through efficiency and conservation measures.

Within ten years Vermont hopes to procure twenty-five percent of its energy from renewables, with forty percent by 2035. For 2025, the breakdown would include sixty-seven percent renewable electricity, thirty percent renewable heating, and ten percent renewable transportation fuels.

A significant component of renewable energy would come from bioenergy, mostly sourced from forests, with a small percentage of agricultural crops such as willow and grasses.

The CEP outlines eight principles to guide the further development of bioenergy in the state.

Read more

[OPINION] Renewability: Biomass Energy Not Renewable

[Read the opposing view to this opinion piece, “Renewability: Congress Confirms Biomass Energy is Renewable,” by Roger Sedjo and Stephen Shaler.]

– by Christopher D. Ahlers, Adjunct Professor, Vermont Law School

There has been increased public attention to the use of biomass as a means to address climate change. Recently, the Senate approved the Energy Policy Modernization Act, which would require the federal government to consider certain biomass projects as “carbon-neutral.” The bill attempts to circumvent the authority of the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been working on a policy relating to biogenic carbon dioxide emissions for over five years (biogenic emissions are those generated from the combustion of biomass, or biological materials such as plants and trees).

But the prevailing debate ignores the real problem of biomass. It overlooks the harm to public health.

Read more

[OPINION] An Essay on Asthma: Waiting to Exhale

– by Melissa Ham-Ellis

asthma-1

Graphic: drannemaitland.net

I was diagnosed with “adult onset asthma” when I was 36 years old. As a non-smoker, enrolled full-time in nursing curriculum, living in a rural area and, concurrently, teaching dance 2-3 times per week (getting adequate exercise,) I did not consider myself to be at risk for COPD. I thought that the likes of emphysema and chronic bronchitis were ailments prevented by abstinence: “how can this be?”

While the scale might tip back and forth as to whether it is more appropriate to refer to asthma as a syndrome or a disease, what seems to characterize asthma as COPD is the accompanying bronchoconstriction (airway narrowing), airway wall thickening, and increased mucus, all of which obstruct the airways and compromise breathing efficacy.

Read more

[EXCLUSIVE] Is Biomass Energy Renewable? New Report Says No

– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

A new law review article questions whether biomass should count as renewable energy, arguing that carbon dioxide and air pollutant emissions disqualify the controversial energy source.

Wood Burning, Biomass, Air Pollution, and Climate Change, by Christopher D. Ahlers, Adjunct Professor of Law at Vermont Law School, explains that the term renewable is a “subjective policy judgment” that must take into account the health and environmental impacts of a given energy source.

Currently, biomass energy makes up 50 percent of renewable energy in the U.S., according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, with half of that tally coming from wood products.

Ahlers, legal support for the Philadelphia-based Clean Air Council, contrasts biomass energy from solar and wind, and instead compares bioenergy to fossil fuels, as “both involve the extraction of solid material from the earth, for the purpose of combustion.” He also discusses the time difference between growing a new tree (decades to centuries) and the formation of new fossil fuel deposits (millennia).

Read more

[OPINION] Doctor’s Orders: Wood Burning is Hazardous to Your Health

– by Dr. Brian Moench, Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment

Civilization orchestrates the curbing of one person’s freedoms for the protection of others and the greater good. When two people’s freedoms are mutually exclusive, civilization embraces the concept that the freedom to not be harmed by others takes precedence. Traffic laws, zoning ordinances, and regulations governing air travel are all examples of that priority. In fact, virtually all laws that allow a free society to rise above chaos, anarchy and barbarism are the result of a similar calculation.

We all accept that freedom for one person to smoke on an airplane has been subjugated to freedom for all the other passengers to breathe clean air. In cities throughout North America there is a growing recognition that wood burning in an urban setting should be considered as much of an anachronism as smoking on an airplane.

Two years ago in my home state of Utah, the most conservative state in the nation, our equally conservative governor, Gary Herbert, declared in his opening speech to our legislature that he would pursue a ban on wood burning throughout the winter season in our largest cities–a truly remarkable development. Here’s what led to that proposal.

In most major, northern cities, wood burning can be as much of a source of the worst kind of community air pollution as all vehicle exhaust. Such is the case where I live in Salt Lake City, Utah. Even in Los Angeles, a study showed that in the winter, residential wood combustion there contributed 30 percent of primary organic aerosols (probably the most important mass component of particulate pollution), more than motor vehicle exhaust, which contributed 21 percent. But that is only the beginning of the story.

Wood smoke is uniquely toxic among all contributors to urban air pollution. The free radical chemicals in wood smoke are active forty times as long as those from cigarette smoke, resulting in a greatly prolonged opportunity to damage individual cells. Other studies suggest that the lifetime cancer risk from wood smoke is twelve times greater than that from an equal volume of second hand tobacco smoke.

Particles in wood smoke are extraordinarily small, behaving essentially like gases, which amplifies their human health impact in multiple ways. The small size makes them easy to inhale into the smallest recesses of the lungs and less likely to be exhaled. They are then picked up by the blood and distributed throughout the body, causing inflammation and biologic disruption wherever they go.

The small size even allows these particles to enter individual cells and critical sub cellular structures like the mitochondria and nucleus, where the all important chromosomes lie. These particles can directly interact with and change the functioning of chromosomes, literally within minutes after exposure, which plays a prominent role in many serious diseases.

Read more

Ten Things You Need to Know if You Burn Wood

– by Josh Schlossberg, The Biomass Monitor

Wood heating is on the rise. 2.7 million U.S. households, making up roughly 2% of the population, are projected to burn wood as a primary heating source over the winter of 2014-2015, a 3.9% increase from the previous year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. Approximately 7.7% of households use a wood or pellet stove as a secondary heating source, based on 2012 census data.

In every state except for the balmy locales of Louisiana, Mississippi, Florida and Hawaii, wood heating has increased over the last decade, largely due to lower costs in comparison to oil and local sourcing opportunities.

Despite some recent advances in stove technology, wood heating still involves combustion, a process that emits air pollutants that have been linked to various health concerns. With the recent uptick in residential and industrial wood burning, it’s in the public’s best interest to be mindful of the risks that come from stoking up the stove.

1) Respiratory Problems

Residential wood burning “greatly increases” the amount of particulate matter (PM) in the air, pollutants smaller in diameter than a human hair, that can lodge deep inside the lungs, as well as enter the bloodstream and organs. Exposure to particulate matter can result in “aggravated asthma, chronic bronchitis, non-fatal heart attacks, and premature death,” according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). PM can also trigger emphysema and strokes, with children, the elderly, sufferers of lung and heart disease, and those of lower income at highest risk.

A study by the California Air Resources Board reported that “wood smoke can cause a 10 percent increase of hospital admissions for respiratory problems among children, who are at most risk since their lungs are still developing.” Particulate matter can harm lungs during only a four hour exposure and cause even greater damage over the long-term.

The chance of premature death is 17% more likely in cities with high particulates compared to those with cleaner air, with every increase of 50 µg/m3 (microgram per square meter) of PM into the air resulting in a 6% spike in deaths and 18.5% increase in hospital admissions results, according to a study from the Harvard School of Public Health. In some cases, up to 90% of PM pollution can come from residential burning, with wood smoke regularly responsible for half of the California Bay area’s winter PM pollution.

Other health concerns related to wood smoke include “irritated eyes, throat, sinuses, and lungs; headaches; reduced lung function, especially in children; lung inflammation or swelling; increased risk of lower respiratory diseases; more severe or frequent symptoms from existing lung diseases.”

Health costs related to wood smoke particulate matter in the U.S. have been estimated at up to $150 billion a year.

2) Carcinogenic 

Despite wood’s natural origin, wood smoke includes known carcinogenic chemicals such as benzene, formaldehyde, acetaldehyde, acrolein, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), with studies demonstrating that wood smoke can cause lung cancer.

Wood burning is the largest source of PAHs in the US, with studies showing it to be the “worst contribution” to the air’s mutagenicity (likely to cause mutations in DNA, including cancer). One study concluded that burning two cords of wood can emit the same amount of PAHs as driving 13 gasoline powered cars 10,000 miles each at 20 miles/gallon.

Other studies have shown that wood smoke causes mouth, throat, lung, breast, and cervical cancer, in scientific literature compiled by Dr. Dorothy L. Robinson. Even more studies linking wood smoke and cancer can be found at the Australian Air Quality Group’s website.

3) Toxic Chemicals

Wood burning emits dioxin, one of the most toxic and persistent substances on the planet as well as isocyanic acid, which can cause atherosclerosis, cataracts, and rheumatoid arthritis.

Combustion of wood also re-releases heavy metals and radioactive pollution that have been absorbed by trees, in amounts significant enough that wood ash can qualify as hazardous waste under Europe’s definitions, if the standards for coal ash were applied to wood ash.

4) Worse Than Cigarettes

The health impacts of cigarettes was one of the biggest public health scandals of the 1980’s, resulting in smoking being banned in restaurants, bars, and other businesses and public places around the world. Despite the risks of cigarettes, you’re twelve times more likely to get cancer from wood smoke in comparison to an equal volume of second hand cigarette smoke, according to the EPA, cited in the Washington State Department of Ecology’s The Health Effects of Wood Smoke.

Wood smoke is thirty times more potent than cigarette smoke, according to “tumor initiation” tests done on laboratory mice, with another study showing that burning hardwood created three times the likelihood of tumors in mice than cigarette smoke, and more than fifteen times when burning softwood.

A fireplace burning for an hour puts out 4,300 times more PAHs than a pack and a half of cigarettes. Additionally, wood smoke “attacks” the cells of the body forty times longer than tobacco, with free radicals from wood smoke chemically active for twenty minutes, with those of tobacco lasting only thirty seconds.

Burning 1 kg of wood can emit more carcinogenic benzo[a]pyrene than 27,000 cigarettes and more formaldehyde than 6,000 cigarettes, according to Comparison of Toxic Chemicals in Wood and Cigarette Smoke, while another study calculated ambient air levels of benzo[a]pyrene from wood smoke the same as smoking two to sixteen cigarettes/day.

More comparisons of wood smoke to cigarette smoke are studied in Impact of Fuel Choice on Comparative Cancer Risk of Emissions,by Joellen Lewtas, Health Effects Research Laboratory, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

5) Exceeds Federal Standards

The World Health Organization maintains that exposure to fine particulate matter 2.5 (PM 2.5) shouldn’t exceed 25 μg/m3 (micrograms per cubic meter) over a 24 hour average, though the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has established a much laxer 35 μg/m3 under its National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS).

Yet even with the EPA’s leniency, a single wood stove can be responsible for a neighborhood exceeding even those levels, according to the American Lung Association. Since the beginning of the 2012-2013 winter stove season, the greater Fairbanks, Alaska area has logged 48 days that exceeded EPA standards. In November 2012, the air quality in the town of North Pole, Alaska, was measured as being twice as bad as Beijing’s, primarily due to wood smoke.

New Hampshire monitoring showed wood smoke violating PM standards by almost double the allowed levels in January 2009, with many communities in southwestern New Hampshire recording 35 μg/m3 and higher.

study in New York — where up to 90% of the Particulate Matter measured came from wood combustion — found 26% of the population was exposed to wood smoke, with the poorer, more crowded and less-white populations receiving the highest levels of PM. Spikes of over 100 μg/m3 per cubic meter occurred during nighttime mobile monitoring, with the report linking such peaks to heart and lung problems, including heart attacks and asthma.

6) Smoke Enters Homes

It’s a common misconception that the only exposure to wood smoke occurs outdoors. However, a substantial amount of smoke actually enters the homes of wood burners, with particulate matter levels found to be 26% higher, benzene levels 29% higher, and PAHs 300% to 500% higher in the homes of wood burners, compared to those who use other heating sources. Another study estimated 70% of outdoor smoke can re-enter a home.

Those who don’t burn wood themselves, yet live in a neighborhood of wood burners, experience indoor particulate levels 50-70% of outdoor levels, according to a Seattle study, as wood smoke has the tendency to hang close to the ground and infiltrate homes, schools, and hospitals.

7) EPA Stoves Not Much Better

EPA stoves have improved somewhat upon conventional woodstoves. Instead of emitting 250 times more particulate matter than an oil or gas furnace, EPA stoves now emit eighty-five times more.

In Libby, Montana over $2.5 million financed the replacement of old wood stoves with EPA certified stoves, resulting in only a 28% reduction in emissions. Measures to further improve wood stove emissions are getting major pushback from the wood heating industry and some politicians.

8) Doctors Want Ban

Some medical professionals who have been studying the health impacts of wood smoke are concerned about the health ramifications, while others are calling for a phasing out of wood stoves. Dr. Brian Moench, president of Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, wants to see an end to residential wood burning. “We don’t have a lot of options,” he said. “We can accept our air pollution is not solvable, we can stop driving all our cars, we can tell industry to shut down, or we can stop burning wood.”

American Lung Association urges that the public “should avoid burning wood in houses where less polluting heating alternatives are available.”

9) Taxpayer Subsidized

Trends show more and more Americans burning wood to heat their homes, causing shortages of cordwood and pellets in some regions and the resulting price spikes. While an individual may choose not to operate a wood stove, a portion of his or her tax dollars may still subsidize those who do.

A $300 federal tax credit has been available to those purchasing new wood stoves or pellet stoves, with the policy set to expire in January 1, 2014, though industry groups claim an extension is possible. Eight states provide tax credits, rebates or deductions for wood heating, including Alabama, Arizona, Idaho, Maine, Maryland, Montana, and Oregon, with New York State offering a $1,000 tax credit for the purchase of a new pellet stove.

10) Alternatives to Burning

There are options for those seeking non-combustion technologies to heat their homes. Alternatives include ground source heat pumpsair source heat pumpssolar thermalpassive solar, and even experimental technologies, such as compost heating. No matter the heating source, the most basic and important step any homeowner can take to reduce energy demands is through insulation and other conservation and efficiency measures.

In some areas, you might not have a choice about whether you burn wood or not. Many states, such as ArizonaCalifornia, and Washington, enforce burn bans and restrictions, based on changes in air quality.

Several court cases, including one in Nebraska, have determined that a neighbor’s wood stove is a nuisance. A recently adopted bylaw in the County of Essex, Ontario, Canada states that one or more complaints in regards to smoke that has a “detrimental impact on the use and enjoyment” of property, will result in a cease and desist order barring future burning.

Montreal has taken things a step further, with plans to phase out wood stoves altogether by 2020.