Public health and environmental organizations have asked the Supreme Court of the State of New York to stop the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) from allowing the continued sale of outdoor wood boilers that endanger public health and can exacerbate asthma symptoms. May is National Asthma Awareness Month and, in New York, more than 1.3 million adults and over 415,000 children suffer from the disease.
On December 29, 2010, the DEC, recognizing the serious public health consequences and nuisance created by outdoor wood boilers (OWBs), enacted pollution limits on boilers sold after April 15, 2011. However, on April 15, 2011, DEC, unexpectedly and without any notice to the public or opportunity for comment, delayed implementation of the pollution limits for three months, citing unsubstantiated economic reasons. Every day this delay remains in effect, New Yorkers across the state face the serious threat of having dirty boilers installed in their communities, which will operate—spewing particulate and toxic air emissions—for the next two decades.
OWBs are a substantial source of black carbon and particulate matter pollution. One OWB can emit as much fine particulate matter air pollution as 1,000 oil furnaces. OWBs also emit toxic air pollutants that are known carcinogens. These emissions are a public health hazard, triggering eye, nose, throat, and lung irritation, worsening asthma symptoms, and causing decreased lung function and cardiovascular problems over the long-term. OWBs also contribute to global warming by emitting black carbon. By some calculations, one pound of black carbon can cause up to 700 times the atmospheric warming of one pound of carbon dioxide.
In New York State, OWB sales have increased in recent years, from 606 units in 1999 to an estimated 2,640 units in 2007. During this time, OWBs have gone largely unregulated. Although the Environmental Protection Agency implements a voluntary program encouraging OWB manufacturers to achieve certain emission limits, and some local municipalities have regulated OWBs in response to public complaints, New York’s DEC had no effective regulations of OWBs until they adopted the pollution limits on December 29, 2010 after a three-year rulemaking.
Hannah Chang of Earthjustice, the public interest law firm representing Environmental Advocates of New York and the American Lung Association in New York, said, “Considering that DEC spent three years consulting with stakeholders and the public to develop a rule limiting pollution from outdoor wood boilers, DEC’s failure even to mention the public health consequences of its abrupt decision to allow the continued sale of dirty boilers flies in the face of reason. DEC’s action robs the public not only of its right to notice and opportunity for comment, but also of its right to breathe clean air.”
According to the American Lung Association in New York and Environmental Advocates, grievances about wood smoke emissions from outdoor wood boilers are one of the most frequently voiced complaints their organizations hear from the public each year.
“Living next door to these dirty wood boilers is worse than setting every stick of your furniture on fire and watching it all burn from the comfort of your living room. New York’s DEC has acknowledged the need to limit this pollution. By issuing this emergency rule to delay the limits, the agency failed to consider the health impacts of the continued sale of these boilers, and that’s the real emergency,” said Ross Gould, Air & Energy Program Director, Environmental Advocates of New York.
“The Lung Association’s recently released State of the Air report found that nearly half of all New York state residents live in areas where air pollution endangers their lives and health,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. ”If anything, this report should have put our environmental enforcement agency on notice that they need to beef up efforts to reduce pollution from outdoor wood boilers. Given that they’re fully aware of the health risks these furnaces present, it’s shocking that they would choose a course of action that would prolong the public’s exposure to dangerous air pollutants.”