2010 April 7: CT: Scientists and physicians say Outdoor Wood Furnaces are a serious health threat to those who live near them.

2010 April 7: CT: Scientists and physicians say Outdoor Wood Furnaces are a serious health threat to those who live near them.
Wood smoke plume
Hartford, Connecticut, April 7, 2010—The immediacy of the health problems that Outdoor Wood Furnaces (OWF) create are real and must be addressed.  Smoke emissions from outdoor wood furnaces are so dense that they enter neighboring houses at all hours of the day and night and contaminate the inside air of these homes.
Wood smoke contains particulates, carbon monoxide, respiratory irritants, volatile gases, carcinogens and neurotoxins.
The particles of wood smoke are extremely small and therefore are not filtered out by the nose or the upper respiratory system. Instead, these small particles end up deep in the lungs where they remain for months, causing structural damage and chemical changes. Wood smoke’s irritants as well as carcinogenic chemicals that adhere to the wood smoke particles enter into deep, sensitive regions of the lungs where the toxic injury is high.
Public Health Toxicologist David Brown, Sc.D., an expert in the field of wood smoke, states, "Episodes of short-term exposures to extreme levels of fine particulates from wood smoke and other sources for periods as short as two hours can produce significant adverse health effects."
Outdoor wood furnaces create emissions different from either fireplaces or indoor wood stoves. Because outdoor wood furnaces cycle between oxygen rich and oxygen deficient burning cycles, the wood burning is incomplete and creates thick and dangerous smoke emissions.  According to the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (CT DEP), exposures to outdoor wood furnaces can lead to serious respiratory and cardiovascular impacts. (See www.ct.gov/dep/lib/dep/air/wood_stove_furnaces/owf.pdf.)
Environment and Human Health, Inc. (EHHI) has completed an extensive study that measured wood smoke in homes in the vicinity of outdoor wood furnaces.

  • EHHI measured the two particle sizes designated by EPA to be the most dangerous to human health—PM 2.5 and PM0.5. Both of these particulates were continuously recorded in the impacted homes. Both hourly averages and minute-by-minute data were collected.
  • Control houses were selected based on the absence of outdoor wood burning devices in their immediate neighborhood.

EHHI found wood smoke particulate matter in every impacted home to be extreme, and to be high enough to cause illness. (See David Brown’s Wood Smoke Study).
Oncologist D. Barry Boyd, MD, says, "In addition to the fine particulate matter, wood smoke contains a number of organic compounds that are potential or recognized carcinogens. Exposure over time may raise the risk not only of chronic lung disease but also of lung cancer. As well, wood smoke interferes with normal lung development in infants and children. It increases children’s risk of lower respiratory infections such as bronchitis and pneumonia. Wood smoke exposure can depress the immune system and damage the layer of cells in the lungs that protect and cleanse the airways."
The particulate matter and gases in wood smoke are so small that windows and doors cannot keep them out—even the newer energy-efficient weather-tight homes cannot keep out wood smoke.
Wood smoke causes coughs, headaches, eye, and throat irritation in otherwise healthy people. For vulnerable populations, such as people with asthma, chronic respiratory disease and those with cardiovascular disease, wood smoke is particularly harmful—even short exposures can prove dangerous. 
A study by the University of Washington showed that 50 to 70 percent of the outdoor levels of wood smoke entered homes that were not burning wood. The EPA did a similar study in Boise, Idaho, and got similar results. The data Environment and Human Health collected show that similar exposures are occurring in Connecticut in non-burning houses in the vicinity of outdoor wood furnaces. Because of the data collected by the State of Washington, the state of Washington has banned outdoor wood boilers/furnaces throughout the state.
Connecticut’s current regulatory approach to protect people from the dangers from OWFs has completely failed and must now be changed to reflect OWFs serious risks to human health. The 200-foot setback that the CT DEP regulations stipulate has simply not protected anyone. This is because the smoke from an OWF can travel for almost one-half mile, and thus a 200-foot setback does not begin to protect neighbors. The height of the stack has not proven to help either because smoke from an OWF is so heavy that it falls toward the ground no matter how high the stack.
Dawn Mays-Hardy of the American Lung Association in Connecticut says,  "Because wood smoke has many of the same components as cigarette smoke, and because wood smoke emissions from outdoor wood furnaces are so thick and pervasive for all those who live near them, American Lung sees them as dangerous to health and requests that their use be restricted until better technologies are found."
The CT DEP fact sheet on outdoor wood furnaces say that an OWF emits the same amount of particulate matter as 3,000 to 8,000 homes heated by natural gas would. This is essentially equivalent to the number of homes in the town of Plainfield.
President of Environment and Human Health, Inc. Nancy Alderman says, "EHHI has now proven that wood smoke from outdoor wood furnaces enters neighboring houses in high enough amounts to cause serious health impacts to these families. Connecticut cannot ignore the science—it must restrict the use and installation of outdoor wood furnaces until better technologies are found that will no longer cause illness among families living in their vicinity.

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