2010 Feb. 20: OH Parkman Township: OWB complaint: Where there’s smoke …
Published: Saturday, February 20, 2010
By Cassandra Shofar
Almost every day, Joann Sagal and her husband put on masks to prevent smoke inhalation in their Parkman Township home.
What’s more, the fumes — which Joann Sagal said have caused abdominal pain and nausea — have nothing to do with their house.
An outdoor wood-fired boiler used by the couples’ neighbor causes smoke to seep into their residence at 16829 Main Market St., she said.
"It depends on which way the wind is blowing, but all the smoke comes into my house," said the 75-year-old Sagal, who lives with her 89-year-old husband, John — a World War II veteran of Pearl Harbor — who suffers from cancer.
"When it was 50 degrees out, it was so terrible. We have to wear masks in the house because our eyes are always burning," she said.
A wood-fired burner is a water heater fueled by wood that is located outdoors and is separated from the space being heated.
The fire produced in a box heats water that is circulated through a house in underground pipes, according to the Ohio Environmental Council, which added the heat can warm houses, shops, tap water, greenhouses, swimming pools and spas.
While this boiler has been used for the past three years, it’s been much worse since October, Sagal said, adding the main issue is the stacks of the boiler are too low.
"The OEC wrote (the neighbor) a nice letter. All we asked him to do was to raise the stacks above our house," Sagal said. "He never responded."
The neighbor’s take
Sagal’s neighbor, who wished to remain anonymous, said this is an issue that goes back much further than this year between him and Sagal.
"It just astonishes me that the (OEC) jumped on with my neighbor," he said. "I think this is not an issue of wood burners and more of a personal harassment issue. That’s how I look at it. They’re on the southwest side of our house and the wind blows from the west, but occasionally the wind changes and blows that way."
In addition, the neighbor said the boiler is placed on the farthest end of his property away from the Sagal’s house, which he said equates to at least 150 to 175 feet.
"This is the third year it’s been burning, there hasn’t been a problem until now," he said, adding the first he heard of this issue is when the OEC sent the letter.
"If she would’ve came to us and been a neighbor, No. 1, it would have developed a neighborly relationship and No. 2, I would’ve looked at it in a different manner. Anybody can go to a doctor and say they have smoke inhalation," he said.
He added, "I’m not here to make someone have a lesser quality of living, but at the same time, I don’t want someone exaggerating and making something up just so they can win … at someone else’s cost."
Because of past discrepancies between the neighbor and Sagal, including an issue with the Sagals burning waste paper which affected his son’s allergies, he said his trust in her word has been diminished.
"If it really came to a health issue and that my wood burner was a validated health issue with them, I wouldn’t have a problem raising the stacks for them, but the bottom line is, I think this is a lie," he said. "I’ve got the smallest unit they make. I fire it twice a day. Because of the relationship in the past, I don’t feel that’s a validated thing. She’s exhausted every avenue … and I feel she’s bullying us at the taxpayer’s expense."
The OEC’s take
David Celebrezze, director of air and water special projects at OEC, equates an outdoor wood-fired boilers to having a diesel truck idling next to a house, pelting windows with soot and ash.
"This example in Parkman is a perfect example of why there needs to be regulations on wood-fired boilers," Celebrezze said. "We see this as something that the state really does need to pick up the ball on and at the very least, the local township and local cities can enact ordinances. We think Parkman Township as well as the state should adopt protections for public health by requiring the stacks be at least 5 feet above any structure that is within 150 feet and that it should be at least 200 feet from an adjoining property line. The pictures that I’ve seen of this situation, the wood-fired boiler is within 200 feet."
Sagal said there are no rules or regulations and the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency hasn’t passed anything yet.
"I called the health department and they couldn’t help us because there’s no law. We’re going through the OEC and they’re working with us, and we’re trying to go to the OEPA to have them pass a law to put restrictions on them."
She added, "All we’re asking is for him to raise his stacks so that smell doesn’t come in our house. You can’t sleep in our bedroom, it smells our whole bedroom up. Some nights, we can’t go to sleep in our rooms."
The OEC and American Lung Association in Ohio are calling on the OEPA to establish standards to control air emissions from wood-fired boilers.
"The Ohio EPA needs to step up to the plate and protect our air quality and public health," Celebrezze said. "Researchers have linked particulate matter that happens when wood is burned to asthma attacks, difficult breathing, heart and lung disease and even early death. So we’re calling on the state to step up to the plate. If the OEPA won’t do it, then the state legislature should do it. I don’t know why the state wouldn’t want to protect a senior citizen being impacted by one of these boilers."
Celebrezze said this issue has come up across the state.
"Throughout the state we’ve gotten calls from people and fire chiefs even, asking what they can do," he said. "If there were some controls on there that lessen or eliminate the particles … but until that is done, I think the brakes need to be put on these things before too many of them get out there. There are already thousands of them throughout the state."
Shelly Kiser, director of advocacy at the American Lung Association in Ohio, said wood-fired boilers are not just a nuisance, they can be dangerous to people’s lungs, especially those with lung disease, diabetes, heart problems, children and elderly.
"People trying to save money on heating bills shouldn’t do so in a way that harms the young, elderly and sick," she said in a statement.
Some Ohio communities that have banned these boilers are: Garrettsville, Fairfield, Orrville Springdale and Warsaw.
The OEPA’s take
While the OEPA has posed some draft rules, it received a lot of comments, many in opposition of the rules, said OEPA spokeswoman Linda Oros.
"So we were considering possibly putting out revised rules and I don’t know if that is going to go forward or not," she said.
She explained the process to approve rules and regulations begins with posing draft rules, gaining feedback from the public, making revisions based on feedback then issuing them as a proposed action.
"At that point, they’re put on the agenda for JCAR (the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules) a group of state senators and representatives that review all agency rules and either can allow them to move forward or send them back for revision or changes," Oros said. "We hold another hearing at that point to again take comments so that we can make any requested changes with the objective of making the rules palatable to (the majority). Then there’s a hearing with JCAR. They take testimony of interested groups and then they determine whether the rules can proceed."
In the meantime, Oros echoed Celebrezze in regards to what can be done on the local level to ensure public health and safety.
"Local communities do have the ability to put local ordinances into place regarding these (boilers) as well," she said.
From the Parkman Fire Department’s perspective, outdoor wood-fired boilers have not been an overall issue in the township so far.
"Since Parkman Township is such a rural area, there hasn’t been in the past, any real issues and problems with any outdoor boilers," Fire Chief Paul Komandt said.
He added he’s aware of Sagal’s situation, however, there isn’t anything the fire department can do at this point.
"I am not sure that the township can pass any resolutions concerning those as far as I know," he added.
Trustee Kevin O’Reilly said the township zoning ordinance already addresses the placement of outdoor wood-fired furnaces, though it falls into a broader category in the ordinance.
"That’s really the only authority we have is through our zoning," O’Reilly said. "Of course (that includes) the safety and health of our residents, but there are limitations on what we can do for zoning. We have setbacks from property boundaries and height restrictions (in the ordinance). We didn’t specifically address it to those wood-fire burners."
O’Reilly said the neighbor is in compliance with the ordinance and there is not a whole lot more they can do at this point.
"I don’t think we would (change the ordinance) because it’s already acceptable. It requires public hearings, a legal review if we’re within our legal bounds, so to change the zoning ordinance could be a large task," he said. "We sympathize with her. She’s in a unique position where maybe the zoning doesn’t address that (specific) situation with her. There could be some kind of geographical reason with the terrain that affects the wind current."
Sam wrote on Feb 20, 2010 8:17 AM: