Seven states have targeted outdoor wood-fired boilers, suing the Environmental Protection Agency for maintaining out-dated standards governing the particulate emitted from wood burning heaters.
New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island and Vermont are calling for a federal court to mandate a review and update of EPA emissions regulations for wood-burning furnaces, stoves, indoor and outdoor wood boilers and other wood-fueled heaters. These states say that emissions from wood-burning devices account for 13 percent of all soot emitted in the U.S. and therefore pose a health hazard.
A 2006 analysis conducted by Tech Environmental, Inc. in Waltham, Mass. found that outdoor wood boilers do not produce high emissions when controlled by a home thermostat, and that emissions comparable to those of certified wood stoves. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) emissions were actually lower.
The boilers are a popular form of whole-house heating, particularly in rural areas where wood is abundant and inexpensive. According to the industry association Wood Heat.org, “Energy return on energy invested: 25:1.” Manufacturers point out that the wood used in these boilers typically is grown locally, often on the homeowner’s own land, and frequently is wood that needs to be removed, like fallen timber and the remains of logging (called slash).
Unlike burning fossil fuels, burning wood has little net increase in carbon dioxide emissions. When allowed to decompose on the forest floor, the logs emits methane, which is 28 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than CO2.
Regulation, so far, has been haphazard. Some states ban or strictly regulate outdoor wood boilers, while others how no regulations regarding them. The EPA emissions standards, established 25 years ago, do not include them. If the lawsuit is successful, a national standard for these boilers would be created, leveling the playing field for manufacturers and reducing emissions as existing systems gradually are replaced.