2010 Feb. 17: IN LaPorte: Wood-fired boiler burns up neighbor
LAPORTE — An outdoor wood-burning boiler is generating heat in LaPorte — not just inside Chris Furness’ house, but also between Furness and his neighbor, Jim Donnelly.
Furness installed his boiler in 2004 to heat his house through an underground pump and cut down on utility bills. Since then, Donnelly has been bothered by smoke the unit disperses and cites concern for property values.
Height: Existing units that don’t meet the emission limit must have a permanent stack extending five feet above the top of any neighbor’s roof located within 150 feet of the unit.
Pollution: Newly installed units must meet the ‘phase 2’ emission limit and be certified under a voluntary program by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Units must meet a 20 percent opacity limit. Current rules allow up to 40 percent. An opacity limit refers to the amount of light blocked by smoke.
Fuel restrictions: Only clean wood and other approved fuel can be burned.
Certification: New units must be certified through EPA’s voluntary program.
See the rules at http://www.in.gov/ idem/6507.htm. You can mail comments to IDEM until Monday, Feb. 22 to:
Susan Bem, mail code 61-50, Rule and SIP Development Section, Office of Air Quality, Indiana Department of Environmental Management, 100 N. Senate Ave., Indianapolis, IN 46204
Issue: #05-332 (APCB) Outdoor hydronic heaters
"I’ve been asking for help from the county as well as the state. We have to have our home shut all the way through the heating season. When you go outside, normally the prevailing winds are in our direction. So we can’t go outside for that long," said Donnelly, who lives about 270 feet from Furness’ boiler. "We do wake up in the mornings with sore throats and headaches so it’s not a fun thing."
Now, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management is trying to prevent similar problems by proposing new rules. IDEM is accepting comments until Monday.
To appease Donnelly and meet county ordinances, Furness extended the smoke stack on the freestanding unit twice, from 2 feet to 32 feet.
"Now that the stack is on there, I never smell it, ever. I’m the closest one to it," said Furness, a firefighter. "If (Donnelly) truly had smoke in his face when he walked out the door, I wouldn’t burn it, but it’s just not that way. He wants people to think the wind always blows from my stack to his window. That’s not the case. He’s not going to be happy till I no longer use it."
He estimates the $5,000 boiler saves him about $2,000 per heating season.
Wood-fired boilers, or hydronic heaters, have been an issue to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management for years.
The wood smoke is a source of soot or particle emissions, which cause respiratory problems, heart problems and premature death. People who live within a few hundred feet of a wood-burning heater are exposed to short-term particle levels that are unhealthy for sensitive groups, including children, the elderly and people who have a heart- or lung condition, according to IDEM.
A wood-burning heater can emit as much particulate matter as 50-500 idling diesel trucks, according to IDEM.
If a county does not meet federal air quality standards, major new industrial facilities can’t locate there without reducing their own air pollution or making an existing facility reduce its pollution.
"If the reported emission levels of outdoor hydronic heaters are true, these devices may be contributing to the Indiana PM 2.5 (small particle) non-attainment problem and preventing economic development," IDEM states in a fact sheet on the controversial heaters.
The smoke also contains formaldehyde, carbon monoxide and cancer-causing benzene.
In the absence of federal regulations, IDEM first proposed rules in 2005 to address the stack height of existing units, how much pollution is allowed from new units, and what you can burn in the boilers. At the time, the agency received 1,600 written comments, mostly in opposition.
Now the agency has made another attempt at rules, which mirror the ordinance in LaPorte County.
The burning season would be limited to September through May and smoke limits would be cut in half. Stacks would have to tower 5 feet higher than the top roof of neighboring homes. And new units would have to be more efficient and burn clean, dry wood that smokes less.
Wood-fired boilers are banned in Michigan City but Donnelly said 140 units exist in LaPorte County, where they’re allowed with restrictions.
"We go out to make sure the chimney height is high enough where it doesn’t go inside windows and doors and make sure it meets all of our stipulations. But even wood-burning stoves, it’s the same thing. Even at my house, even though the chimney has that height, you can still smell the smoke," said Cindy Kreske, office manager at the LaPorte County building commissioner’s office.
Building Commissioner Ray Hamilton said county officials inspect the boilers to make sure construction complies with the ordinance.
"We can’t outlaw them or ban them. We shouldn’t because for somebody it’s their heat. It’d be like telling someone you can’t have a car," Kreske said.
Several counties and four states — Colorado, Maryland, New Jersey and Washington — have banned the units.
Porter County allows outdoor woodfired boilers without a permit, as long as they are smaller than 8-feet-by-8-feet, said building department secretary Kim Zacek. Lake County requires a permit.
Disagreement on rules
Donnelly says IDEM’s proposed rules aren’t good enough. He wants the agency to make better use of existing rules to prevent fugitive dust and says even if smoke stacks are tall, inversion where hot meets cold air will force smoke to the ground. He said IDEM would only be able to assess how much smoke comes from a unit on a sunny day.
IDEM spokesman Rob Elstro denied that, saying the agency’s smoke assessment does not require sunny skies.
"Opacity can be read when the sky is overcast, during precipitation, and even at night," Elstro said.
He explained that the draft rule requires all newly sold units to be certified through the the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s voluntary outdoor hydronic heater program and meet certain emission limits.
"This will ensure that Indiana’s air quality will be protected as more and more units are installed," Elstro said.