Poor air quality from wood burners not just a western issue

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,346
Northern NH

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,950
South Puget Sound, WA
There are valley areas in New England and Appalachia that have the same issues as we see out west, but often on a more local level.
 

Smolder

New Member
Dec 25, 2019
70
Ashton, Ontario
There are valley areas in New England and Appalachia that have the same issues as we see out west, but often on a more local level.
My village in Ontario is exclusively heated with wood. Most of it was built in the 1800s. I’m the only one with an EPA stove but for the most part people know how to burn clean enough with their older stoves and burn dry wood. I’ve never found the smoke smell on humid stagnant days to be offensive. I could see people who come from the burbs where heat has no smell finding it offensive, but no one here does... it’s only an air quality issue to someone not familiar with it.
 

woodgeek

Minister of Fire
Jan 27, 2008
4,186
SE PA
I live upwind of the second most populous city of the East Coast. And I think PM2.5 and PM10 are a threat, and I have an old, pre-EPA stove.

I try to burn only biomass block (which are low smoke in my rig) and when the weather is favorable for particle dispersal....rain and/or wind.
 

Piney

Member
Nov 29, 2015
55
Frozen North
Nearest neighbour is an old fellow in a cabin a mile away across the river. Smoke is not an issue for us and we groan every time some govt authority talks about forcing change upon everyone in the name of 'neighbourly progress' or whatever.
 

semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
3,826
SW Virginia
In our area of Appalachia the wood fired boilers seem to be the main culprits. Many home here burn wood but when when you trace a smokey trail back to its source its usually a wood boiler.
Personally, I think these things have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the way they are typical operated at a slow smolder with wet wood is giving wood burners a bad name.
 
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Smolder

New Member
Dec 25, 2019
70
Ashton, Ontario
Nearest neighbour is an old fellow in a cabin a mile away across the river. Smoke is not an issue for us and we groan every time some govt authority talks about forcing change upon everyone in the name of 'neighbourly progress' or whatever.
I’m with you. A single small forest fire probably makes more “particulate” than a nations wood heating does. No one here wants to be told how they should heat. We pay carbon taxes on heating fuel (like one has a choice).
 
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ABMax24

Feeling the Heat
I also think that forest fires are a huge source of emissions as well, for the last 4 years we have had at least a couple days where the forest fire smoke was so bad we couldn't see to the end of our street. We had a summer day in June of 2018 that the smoke was so bad we thought the apocalypse was coming, the sky was black with a faint red glow where the sun should be and ash falling from the sky, this was from a fire 500km away in Prince George BC.

That being said I don't see the need to pollute for no reason, I'd be pretty mad if I constantly had smoke drifting into my yard from some neighbors poor burning habits.
 

Piney

Member
Nov 29, 2015
55
Frozen North
In our area of Appalachia the wood fired boilers seem to be the main culprits. Many home here burn wood but when when you trace a smokey trail back to its source its usually a wood boiler.
Personally, I think these things have a lot of potential. Unfortunately, the way they are typical operated at a slow smolder with wet wood is giving wood burners a bad name.
Yah. Same here on the plateau from what I can see ....
 

Piney

Member
Nov 29, 2015
55
Frozen North
I also think that forest fires are a huge source of emissions as well, for the last 4 years we have had at least a couple days where the forest fire smoke was so bad we couldn't see to the end of our street. We had a summer day in June of 2018 that the smoke was so bad we thought the apocalypse was coming, the sky was black with a faint red glow where the sun should be and ash falling from the sky, this was from a fire 500km away in Prince George BC.

That being said I don't see the need to pollute for no reason, I'd be pretty mad if I constantly had smoke drifting into my yard from some neighbors poor burning habits.
Sure. But is it pollution in an absolute sense to the earth or is it pollution because the EPA said it was? Moses didn't have a third tablet defining ppm of wood smoke particulate.
I do hear you, and agree, but there is a cost to everything and I wonder if invisible natural gas burn byproducts might persist in the atmosphere longer (science says yes) and what the impacts might be.
It's all, sort of, easily vilified but actually a bit of a mystery.
That said: dry wood, hot fires.
 

ABMax24

Feeling the Heat
Sure. But is it pollution in an absolute sense to the earth or is it pollution because the EPA said it was? Moses didn't have a third tablet defining ppm of wood smoke particulate.
I do hear you, and agree, but there is a cost to everything and I wonder if invisible natural gas burn byproducts might persist in the atmosphere longer (science says yes) and what the impacts might be.
It's all, sort of, easily vilified but actually a bit of a mystery.
That said: dry wood, hot fires.
I'm not sure what natural gas combustion byproducts you speak of, everything in natural gas flue gases is also present in wood flue gases except wood creates has a higher concentration of these byproducts.

Pollution is considered to be hazardous to human health, constantly breathing wood smoke fumes isn't good for you, in the same way smoking and second hand smoke shortens your life span.
 

SpaceBus

Minister of Fire
Nov 18, 2018
4,329
Downeast Maine
Hopefully all of the smoke dragons will be replaced with clean burning appliances in the future. Not just for clean air, but also so folks can live easier lives and have to work less or spend less money on firewood. Certainly forest fires are making way more smoke and problems than wood stoves, but at least the wood stoves are under human control.

I do agree that many of the worst offenders are wood boilers. Many folks here in Maine like to burn truck loads of unseasoned logs in boilers all winter. It's mind blowing to me, but cheaper than oil I suppose.
 

Piney

Member
Nov 29, 2015
55
Frozen North
I'm not sure what natural gas combustion byproducts you speak of, everything in natural gas flue gases is also present in wood flue gases except wood creates has a higher concentration of these byproducts.

Pollution is considered to be hazardous to human health, constantly breathing wood smoke fumes isn't good for you, in the same way smoking and second hand smoke shortens your life span.
Sure, though natural gas has some different stuff in its smoke. It's an excellent fuel and even EPA stoves used properly can't equal its minimum particulate output level but its smoke impact and behaviours in the environment are somewhat different than that of wood smoke.
But we have to heat and we aren't all passive geothermal so pros and cons must be weighed for sure. Human health factors and environmental impact factors are often included in working definitions of pollution and may, or may not, significantly intersect.
I like these articles as a primer as they are easily accessible and easy to follow, though getting a bit long in the tooth.
They're interesting. Apologies if it's all old hat.
https://woodheat.org/attachments/article/hpawma.pdf

https://woodheat.org/wood-smoke.html
 

peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,346
Northern NH
I do get a chuckle that the "evil" polyaromatic hydrocarbons in wood smoke is what makes barbeque taste so good.

That said, burning wood tends to line up with other individual liberty issues. Its relatively easy to put in place new standards for new wood burning appliances but getting rid of old ones in use is definitely a hot button topic. Stove buy out programs can take old stoves out of use but is expensive as there a lot them out there so someone needs to finance the programs.

Even with buy outs, there is no practical way of burning green wood. As long as people try to, they are going to figure out a way of bypassing the design aspects of the newer stoves to burn green and slow.
 
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semipro

Minister of Fire
Jan 12, 2009
3,826
SW Virginia
I wonder sometimes if EPA's clean wood burning efforts wouldn't be better spent on educating about burning cleanly and creating and enforcing standards for firewood quality (e.g. defining "seasoned").
 
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Piney

Member
Nov 29, 2015
55
Frozen North
I do get a chuckle that the "evil" polyaromatic hydrocarbons in wood smoke is what makes barbeque taste so good.

That said, burning wood tends to line up with other individual liberty issues. Its relatively easy to put in place new standards for new wood burning appliances but getting rid of old ones in use is definitely a hot button topic. Stove buy out programs can take old stoves out of use but is expensive as there a lot them out there so someone needs to finance the programs.

Even with buy outs, there is no practical way of burning green wood. As long as people try to, they are going to figure out a way of bypassing the design aspects of the newer stoves to burn green and slow.
So very true
 

Starbrightsteve

New Member
Dec 29, 2019
22
Wellsboro, PA
I live in rural nortcentral PA and I’m surprised that lots of folks that used to burn wood 20 years ago have switched to n. Gas and propane. It used to be that if a tree fell along a road, it would be gone the next day. Now it lays and rots. But there are lots of old stoves out here. My friend Bob the welder made his own outside wood boiler. The chimney is an 8 “ gas line pipe and he cleans it with a fire dragon propane torch. He starts a chimney fire. He knows I think his setup is BS. But I think the think the thing that bothers me the most is folks with a burn barel that burn plastic. My next door neighbor does this every other day. His burn barrel smokes for about 5 hours every time he uses it.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,346
Northern NH
The neighbor with a burn barrel is potentially putting out a very toxic brew into the local air including furans and dioxins (the prime toxic in Agent Orange). A few house hold burn barrels can exceed the toxic air emissions of large waste to energy plant. The toxic cloud is not staying on his property its impact properties around his. If the neighbor was a business it highly likely the state or fed could shut him down.
 
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jatoxico

Minister of Fire
Aug 8, 2011
4,218
Long Island NY
My next door neighbor does this every other day. His burn barrel smokes for about 5 hours every time he uses it
Half the time these are the guys that complain about it first and loudest but are the reason for gub'mit oversight and regulation. Then the rest of us end up paying the price of any over-reach.
 

begreen

Mooderator
Staff member
Nov 18, 2005
82,950
South Puget Sound, WA
Half the time these are the guys that complain about it first and loudest but are the reason for gub'mit oversight and regulation. Then the rest of us end up paying the price of any over-reach.
I recall reading a New Zealand report some years back on this issue. They surveyed some communities that often had winter inversions and serious wood smoke issues. It turned out that fireplaces and open fires were the number one cause there.
 
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Sawset

Minister of Fire
Feb 14, 2015
898
Palmyra, WI
had winter inversions and serious wood smoke issues. It turned out that fireplaces and open fires were the number one cause there.
In the 80s we were looking for a house to buy, here in WI. Visited one, summer, subdivision, in a valley, 40ac of haze and smoke, mostly from outdoor grilling. Suppose everyone has a right to cook some burgers outdoors, but it was a deal breaker for us. No way we wanted to live in that.
 

jatoxico

Minister of Fire
Aug 8, 2011
4,218
Long Island NY
I recall reading a New Zealand report some years back on this issue. They surveyed some communities that often had winter inversions and serious wood smoke issues. It turned out that fireplaces and open fires were the number one cause there.
I was wondering when someone would bring this up. Even if you, as I do, believe in the need for research and appropriate regulation, taking existing wood stoves to a new standard while leaving open fireplaces completely alone damages the credibility of regulatory agencies.
 
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peakbagger

Minister of Fire
Jul 11, 2008
5,346
Northern NH
Probably of the more scenic spots in New England is the Franconia Parkway going through Franconia Notch (former home of New Hampshire's Old Man on the Mountain). The fed and the state spent a lot of money building the parkway through the Notch to connected up Interstate 93 on either side. There had to be congressional action to build it as its 2 lanes in spots. Almost in the middle of it is state campground. Frequently when I drive through in the summer there is distinct wood smell and haze as I round the corner past the campground.

Barbeque smokers are potentially major sources of low level smog. As mentioned in one my posts Polyaromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs), are the major source of smoke flavor for the meat in a smoker yet also are a major form of air emissions from poor wood combustion. Effectively a good barbeque grill is a smoke dragon. I am surprised the EPA has not gone after commercial BBQ operations but expect they realize the potential PR hit they would take. Much as well done barbeque tastes great, its usually flagged by health authorities that its one of least heathy ways to cook meat.

They did go after large bakeries years ago as the fresh bread smell is sign of Volatile Organic Compound (VOC) Emissions. Most large bakeries have to install catalytic oxidizers to "burn" the oven exhausts. To date I am not sure if the chocolate smell near chocolate factories has any health effects ;)
 
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blades

Minister of Fire
Nov 23, 2008
3,498
WI, Leroy
much moreenjoyable to drive past the chocolate plant than the paint line at Briggs & Stratton back in the late 70's