Summit County proposes to prohibit wood-burning stoves
July 17, 2015
Burning wood in a fireplace might be a staple of mountain culture, but it’s one of Summit County’s worst pollutants.
In the Snyderville Basin, the air quality is deteriorating not to alarming levels, but bad enough that it worries health officials, especially as they cast an eye to a future of more houses and more tourists.
The Snyderville Basin Planning Commission recommended last week to permanently ban all wood-burning appliances from any new construction or remodeling. The commission unanimously voted to send the recommendation to the Summit County Council, which will take up the proposal in upcoming weeks.
The commission was facing an Aug. 11 deadline for deciding whether to continue the county’s six-month moratorium on wood-burning appliances. But the benefits of limiting smoke pollution outweigh any cultural norm, no matter how treasured, argued Phil Bondurant, the county’s director of Environmental Health.
"Unlike most other sources of pollution, home wood-burning emissions are released directly into the area where people spend most of their time at an elevation that does not promote dispersion," he wrote the commission, adding that it is almost impossible "to prevent wood-smoke pollution from seeping into nearby homes."
In the Basin, burning wood causes more pollution than cars and trucks. When the air quality deteriorates, blame smoke from wood, he said, not exhaust from cars.
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"Any time (particulate pollution) rises, it’s been associated with wood burning," he told commission members just before their vote. "The common belief is it’s from cars. But it’s not. It’s wood burning."
Statistics from state and federal environmental studies submitted to the commission last week paint a grim picture.
- Monitoring stations can miss that a neighbor burning wood might increase pollution by 100 times in the house next door.
- One fireplace burning 10 pounds of wood for an hour fouls the air worse than 120,000 cigarettes.
- Burning two cords of wood has the same effect of driving 13 cars for 10,000 miles.
- Smoke from wood creates a lifetime cancer risk 12 times greater than the same amount of second-hand tobacco smoke.
The chief culprit is particulate pollution produced by burning wood, Bondurant said. It’s the smallest pollutant and causes the most severe health and environmental threats.
"So because it’s so small, when you breathe it in, the smaller particles have the ability to get farther down the deeper in the lungs, and the smaller the particle, the farther it’s able to travel," he said.
Summit County’s location doesn’t help, either. The Basin is adjacent to counties that routinely violate air standards set by the Environmental Protection Agency, particularly Salt Lake and Utah counties.
The EPA calls the counties "non-attainment," a term reserved for counties larger than 50,000. Programs in those two counties are trying to fight pollution that has been building for years.
While Summit County with a population of about 40,000 might lie in a different category, it only means that now not retroactively is the time to act, Bondurant said.
"What we’re trying to accomplish is being ahead of the eight-ball and keeping it so that if and when the time comes that we became a non-attainment area, that we’re not back-regulating these situations," he said.
If the county council approves the ban, it would cover any wood-burning appliance. That means chiefly stoves and fireplaces. It would also outlaw any burning of trash, except for yard waste. To do that, residents must obtain permission from the fire district.
The ban covers not only new construction and but also remodeling where the plans call for adding a wood-burning stove or fireplace.
"If you wanted to have a fireplace or the ambiance of a fireplace, the ordinance would require that you put in a gas fireplace or a gas stove," said Ray Milliner, county planner.
Homeowners remodeling a room with an existing stove or fireplace would be allowed to keep them. If they wanted to improve or replace the wood-burning appliances, the owners would need to buy wood-burning appliances approved by the EPA, he said.
"So the idea on that was rather than just have people leave their old fireplaces or their old wood-burning stoves in perpetuity, at least we’d get a newer one that is cleaner instead of the old one chugging along," he said.
The ban, if adopted, still allows for any home with an existing stove or fireplace to keep them. It also is limited to the Basin area. Eastern Summit County remains free of the prohibition.
No matter, the ban will fight the creeping inversions, which county officials say one can start to see, and that means better breathing down the road.
"It’s a very effective way to limit that particulate matter and to continue to maintain the quality of our air up here for the future," Bondurant said.
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