Breathe Easy: Clean-Burning Wood Stoves Are on the Way

A clean-burning wood stove could be a beautiful thing. (Photo: Stuv).

All the prepper sites are going nuts: "80 percent of wood stoves banned" the headlines scream. "Obama is taking away your wood stove." The Heartland Institute, famous for ridiculous climate denial campaigns, claims in a headline: "New EPA Regulations Ban Production and Sale of Most Wood-Burning Stoves." Alaska state Rep. Tammie Wilson complains: "Rather than fret over EPA’s computer model-based warning about the dangers of inhaling soot from wood smoke, residents have more pressing concerns on their minds such as the immediate risk of freezing when the mercury plunges."

But there's nothing hypothetical about the dangers of wood smoke. In fact, at certain times of year, the air quality in Fairbanks, Alaska, is worse than in Beijing. Wood smoke is a serious health hazard. In some parts of the United States, it can be responsible for 80 percent of the particulate matter. According to the EPA:

Smoke from wood-burning stoves and fireplaces contains a complex mixture of gases and particles. The size of particles is directly linked to their potential for causing health problems. Small particles less than 10 micrometers in diameter pose the greatest problems, because they can get deep into the lungs, and some may even get into the bloodstream. Among these particles are “fine particles,” which are 2.5 micrometers in diameter and smaller. These fine particles can affect both your lungs and your heart.
The new stoves will reduce dangerous particle and Volatile Organic Compound emissions by 70 percent and carbon monoxide emissions by 65 percent. But the Heartland Institute denies that particulates even have anything to do with health:
"Do some people get sick? Yeah. Is that what’s causing it? Well, EPA says it is, but we really don’t know. But we’ve got predatory scientists who will say it is.”

And really, there is nothing in the new regulations, which went into effect May 15, that bans 80 percent of stoves. All existing stoves are grandfathered and can still be used. They are not illegal. Stoves on showroom floors can still be sold until the end of the year. (And no doubt they will sell quickly, being a lot cheaper than the new ones.) Opponents also claim that the change in regulations will "hurt low-income families who rely on wood heat." In fact, they will help them, as the new stoves are more efficient.
Really, it's pretty remarkable and the way things are supposed to work; through good old American ingenuity, stove manufacturers have been able to design appliances that deliver more heat with significantly less pollution. They are designed with lots of firebox insulation that creates a good environment for complete combustion and a longer, hotter path for exhaust that burns out more particulates. Other stoves have catalytic honeycombs where the particles actually ignite and burn. Both systems are effective and require just a bit more maintenance than conventional stoves.

Where many have noted that wood is a renewable resource and one of the most affordable fuels for people in rural America, there was no denying that it was dirty. It's hard to see what the downside is with the new regulations, other than people won't be able to buy cheap imported stoves from China. If stoves were clean, then renewable wood might be considered the perfect fuel for many people who have access to it nearby. Strange that people would fight this, simply because it's from predatory scientists at the EPA and a president they don't like.

Related in MNN and TreeHugger: