October 9, 2013
• Posted in

Wood burning devices estimated to account for 13 percent of U.S. soot pollution

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum announced today the filing of a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency alleging the agency has failed to adequately limit air pollution emissions from new residential woodstoves and heaters.

Oregon, New York and five other states allege the EPA’s 25 years of inaction on woodstove emission standards violates the Clean Air Act. The states allege EPA’s existing emissions limits are outdated and leave out popular types of residential woodstoves and heaters.   

“Smoke from residential woodstoves pose a real threat to air quality, in rural Oregon and the Portland-area,” said Attorney General Rosenblum. “This lawsuit will put pressure on EPA to comply with the Clean Air Act and provide overdue leadership in requiring new woodstoves meet stricter pollution standards. That would save consumers money, improve local air quality, and safeguard public health.”

Wood smoke contains several pollutants, including fine particulate matter (soot,) that are linked to serious public health impacts, including asthma attacks, heart attacks and premature death.   Wood smoke can also cause short-term effects such as eye, nose, throat and lung irritation, coughing, sneezing, runny nose and shortness of breath.   According to recent EPA data, soot emitted from wood-burning devices comprises 13 percent of all soot pollution in the country.  Moreover, several studies have found that residential wood combustion is responsible for potentially dangerous short-term spikes in soot air pollution, especially in rural areas.

Wintertime residential wood burning can cause a community to exceed federal air quality health standards for particulate matter. Klamath Falls and Oakridge are violating the fine particulate standard. Woodstove use accounts for more than 70 percent of emissions in those towns. There are also at least three other areas in Oregon – Lakeview, Burns and Prineville – that are close to violating the standard because of heavy smoke from residential sources.

Wood heating has also been identified as a leading source of air toxics risk in the Portland area due to benzene and PAH (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon) emissions.

Under the Clean Air Act, EPA must set pollution emission limits — called New Source Performance Standards or “NSPS” —  for categories of emission sources that “cause, or contribute significantly to, air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.”

Importantly, the Agency must review and as appropriate revise these limits at least every eight years to ensure they keep pace with advances in pollution control technologies.  Since the adoption of NSPS limits in 1988, three eight-year review periods — mandated by the Clean Air Act — have come and gone (1996, 2004 and 2012) without the Agency completing even one review of the limits. 

If EPA were to adopt new, tougher emission standards, they would likely  apply only to new woodstoves, not existing ones.

Oregon has taken its own steps to address the problem of woodstove smoke, by requiring all wood burning devices to be subject to certification requirements and to also require the removal of an uncertified stove at the time of home sale.

Joining Oregon and New York in the suit are the states of Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Vermont, as well as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. 

More information on woodstoves and Oregon emission standards is available at http://www.deq.state.or.us/aq/burning/woodstoves/index.htm


Jeff Manning, Department of Justice, jeff.d.manning@doj.state.or.us, 503-378-6002