On Wednesday, national health and environmental groups filed a legal challenge to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to update clean air standards that limit emissions from new outdoor wood boilers, furnaces and other similar sources that discharge large volumes of smoke and soot. This review is 17 years overdue, resulting in increased exposure to harmful smoke and soot in communities across the nation despite the wide availability of cleaner technologies.
Earthjustice, on behalf of the American Lung Association, Environmental Defense Fund, Clean Air Council, and Environment and Human Health, Inc., filed a lawsuit over the EPA’s failure to update emissions standards for new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and other similar high-emitting sources of dangerous soot as required by the Clean Air Act. The complaint filed Wednesday asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy to review and revise the standards. Filing a similar complaint were the states of New York, Connecticut, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont and the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.
“Woodsmoke from these devices is a significant source of dangerous fine particulate matter and because they emit close to the ground and their use is concentrated in certain areas including the Northeast, Northwest and Midwest, they have an enormous impact on wintertime air quality in those areas,” said Tim Ballo, attorney for Earthjustice. “The EPA needs to update its standards, which fail to cover the most heavily polluting types of wood burning equipment.”
When the EPA last set pollution limits on new wood-burning devices in 1988, the Agency determined that these devices “contribute significantly to air pollution which may reasonably be anticipated to endanger public health and welfare.” The Clean Air Act requires the EPA to review emissions standards for health harming sources of air pollution every 8 years. Under the law, the EPA should have reviewed and updated the standards in 1996, 2004 and 2012.
EPA’s failure to update the standards means that homeowners install thousands of new wood-burning boilers, furnaces and stoves each year that produce far more dangerous air pollution than cleaner units would. Emissions from high polluting devices include particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds, hazardous air pollutants and carcinogens. The revised standards would only apply to new units, and would not affect existing sources.
“The EPA set the current standards for wood-burning devices more than a quarter century ago, years before the first of the landmark studies that demonstrated that particles like those that make up woodsmoke can be deadly,” said Janice Nolen, Assistant Vice President, National Policy, for the American Lung Association. “Since then, research into the pollutants from wood-burning has grown rapidly. EPA has abundant evidence that the standards from a generation ago endanger public health.”
“Wood stoves and boilers are a significant source of harmful particulates and toxic hydrocarbons,” said Elena Craft, Environmental Defense Fund Health Scientist. “Rigorous, health-protective standards for new stoves and boilers are both long overdue and urgently needed to protect families and communities around the country whose health is impacted by wood smoke emissions.”
“We’ve seen the market for outdoor boilers expand over the past two decades and over 10,000 units are sold each year,” said David Presley, Staff Attorney, Clean Air Council. “EPA and the industry developed voluntary outdoor wood boiler standards in 2010, but most devices sold fail to meet even these voluntary standards.”
EPA’s standards of performance do not reflect improvements in technology available widely today. For example, the State of Washington requires wood-burning devices to meet PM emission standards that are 40 percent more stringent than EPA’s standards. Moreover, EPA’s own data shows that many current devices far surpass even the Washington standards. Some widely-sold wood-burning devices, such as large outdoor wood boilers, are not covered at all by EPA’s current standards.
“Until EPA acts, the wood smoke from these devices will continue to enter the houses of all those who live near them, causing families to lose their health as well as the value of their homes," explained Nancy Alderman, Environment and Human Health, Inc. “The EPA cannot continue to allow so many citizens to be made sick because they have not acted, as the law requires, to set new air emission standards that keep pace with improving technology.”