EPA awards $120,000 grant to replace fireplaces in Summit County
Wood-burning appliances are often considered synonymous with homes in the mountains. But, health officials are hoping a new program will educate homeowners of the risk the ambiance poses to air quality and encourage them to make the switch to gas appliances.
The Environmental Protection Agency awarded a $120,000 grant to Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment earlier this month for an air quality project in Summit County.
The program is intended to reduce exposure to wood smoke pollution by helping moderate- to low-income families switch out their appliances. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is partnering with the Summit County Health Department, Habitat for Humanity of Summit and Wasatch counties, and PurpleAir.
Phil Bondurant, environmental health director of the Health Department, said the grant will ultimately help improve the air quality in Summit County. The Summit County Council identified the negative health impacts of poor air quality and instructed the Health Department to find ways to improve it as one of its strategic goals for 2018.
“We see traditional spikes after the first cold snap of the year and around our holidays,” he said, referring to usage of wood-burning appliances. “We live in a community where it is mountainous and people want that effect. We are sensitive to that. But, we have to consider the environmental and health impacts.”
The program administered through the grant will serve two purposes: provide education and outreach about the dangers associated with the burning of wood, and provide financial assistance for people who are interested in installing a natural gas or propane appliance.
Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment will be administering the grant while working closely with partner agencies to determine who will be eligible to participate in the program. Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment is a Salt Lake City-based education group that advocates for clean air, soil and other healthy environment-related issues.
Jonny Vasic, executive director for Utah Physicians for a Healthy Environment, commended the Health Department’s interest in implementing the program. A similar program is currently in place in the Salt Lake Valley. He added, “It’s pretty exciting that Summit County is interested in getting a jump on it before air quality does get that bad.”
“I hope this will be the tip of the iceberg and create some momentum. It would be a good idea to take the lead on it before we do get to that point.”
Health officials in Summit County encouraged the Snyderville Basin Planning Commission to pass an ordinance banning the installation of wood-burning appliances in new construction in 2015. No similar ordinances exist in Park City or on the eastern end of the county.
Vasic was confident Summit County residents will want to switch to gas appliances, adding, “There will no shortages of people signing up.” He said the interest is there, but many people don’t have the financial means to do it.
“If we have individuals that want to make that switch from wood burning to gas appliance, that’s where this program really fills that void by helping people who may be in that situation,” he said.
Doug Benevento, a regional administer for the EPA, said in a press release the EPA supports local efforts to address and improve air quality in the state.
“We are pleased to support this voluntary partnership, which will help lower and middle-income households reduce harmful particulate emissions and improve public health in Summit County,” he said. Details surrounding how the program will be administered and who will be eligible were not available. The County Council is scheduled to review the project during the Oct. 31 meeting. A website will soon be developed for signups, Bondurant said. He added, “We are still in the early process of getting this going before we roll it out.”
The program will likely target people who can’t afford to switch their appliances or those who own homes with wood-burning fireplaces that are not properly working.
“This program covers everything from A to Z and is really focusing on our groups that may be at risk financially,” Bondurant said. “We are focused on making an impact in air quality for years to come and are hoping we can get the community to engage in this process. We can write regulations and rules that limit and restrict this. But, sometimes we have to get a voluntary commitment rather than writing another regulation. But, we have an opportunity make a difference now.”
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District officials have discussed the issue for at least a decade.