Air Matters, December 2009
Volume 4 Issue 6Bureau of Air Management
Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources
PO Box 7921
Madison WI 53707
- Outdoor Wood Boilers: Best Burn Practices to Reduce Air Pollution
- Air Pollution Seminars Scheduled
- High School Students Learn About Climate Change
- New Air Quality Index Poster Available
Outdoor Wood Boilers: Best Burn Practices to Reduce Air Pollution and Health Problems
By Autumn E. Sabo
Outdoor wood boilers have become more popular in the United States, particularly in rural areas, as the prices for heating oil, propane, and natural gas have increased. These wood burning furnaces, a type of hydronic heater, look like small sheds with a smokestack. They heat water, or a water-antifreeze mix, that is piped into homes or other structures for space heating or generating hot water.
An example of an outdoor wood boiler.
Photo by Autumn Sabo
The basic design of an outdoor wood boiler encourages a slow, cooler fire to maximize the amount of heat transferred from the fire to the water. However, slow, cooler fires burn inefficiently and create more smoke than hotter fires. Wood smoke contains a mixture of at least 100 different compounds in the form of gases and fine particulate matter (PM2.5). Related health impacts can range from eye and nose irritation, headaches, coughing, respiratory and cardiac problems, and increased risk of cancer, to premature death. The elderly, children, pregnant women, and people with respiratory and heart diseases are especially sensitive to air pollutants from wood smoke.
If you are in the process of purchasing or installing an outdoor wood boiler, here are some steps you can take to reduce problems:
- Check with your local government about any restrictions on the use of outdoor wood boilers in your community. Some areas have ordinances that ban or limit the use of outdoor wood boilers.
- Consider purchasing a cleaner burning furnace by choosing one with the Environmental Protection Agency’s white or orange hangtag [exit DNR]. White hangtags mean that the furnaces are approximately 90% cleaner than unqualified units while orange hangtags mean that they are about 70% cleaner than unqualified units. Any wood- or pellet-burning stove that meets the Environmental Protection Agency’s 75% efficiency rating may qualify for a tax credit.
- Ensure appropriate siting. Place outdoor wood boilers at least 300 to 500 feet from the nearest building that is not on the same property as the unit. Use chimneys that are a minimum of 15 feet high, or preferably as high as the roofs of nearby buildings, to enable dispersion of the smoke.
Users of outdoor wood boilers can take several additional precautions to limit health risks and neighborhood complaints:
- Only burn dry, untreated wood. Do not burn trash, treated wood, or wet wood. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health [exit DNR], burning plastics and treated wood releases toxic chemicals such as heavy metals and dioxins that can cause a range of health issues including skin, reproductive, and developmental problems, and potentially increase the risk of cancer.
- Do not use lighter fluid, gasoline, or other chemicals to start the fire. Their fumes contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone, an air pollutant that is particularly harmful for people with respiratory and heart diseases. Instead, use clean, dry kindling to start the fire.
- Follow manufacturer’s written instructions for wood loading times and amounts. This will help the furnace burn efficiently, reducing both wood usage and air emissions. Remember, even dry, untreated wood releases some pollutants when it burns.
Autumn Sabo is an Educator with the DNR.
Air Pollution Seminars Scheduled
By Tom Coogan
The Department of Commerce Small Business Clean Air Assistance Program is collaborating with the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) and the Federation of Environmental Technologists, Inc. to co-host the Air Pollution Regulation Update Seminars. The planning committee encourages environmental professionals who are involved with air pollution issues to attend the seminars, which are tentatively scheduled for:
- Wednesday, January 27, 2010 (Eau Claire)
- Thursday, January 28, 2010 (Fox Valley area)
- Tuesday, February 2, 2010 (Brookfield)
- Thursday, February 4, 2010 (Madison)
The seminars will provide insights into DNR’s new air permit online application system, the annual reporting system for emissions inventory, the hazardous waste reporting system, state and federal air pollution regulation changes, greenhouse gas reporting, and much more. These seminars are a great opportunity for environmental professionals to learn about what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the DNR have been working on throughout the year and what is coming in the near future.
For more information about the seminars, please visit the FET website [exit DNR] or contact the FET office at (262) 437-1700.
Tom Coogan is a Program Manager in the Wisconsin Department of Commerce’s Bureau of Entrepreneurship and Technology Development.
At the Wisconsin High School Conference on the Environment in Stevens Point, WI, DNR Forest Geneticist and Nursery Specialist Avery Dorland led sessions for three groups of 20 students. Following the Ecosystem Relationships lesson plan detailed in DNR’s Climate Change Activity Guide for Teachers Grades 7-12, Dorland and the students developed diagrams showing the living and non-living parts of Wisconsin’s forests. Next, they considered how changes in precipitation and temperatures might affect each component, interactions among the components, and related human activities like hunting and logging. Dorland reported that, “the kids were very quick figuring out the environmental factors” and “it seemed like the activity helped them begin thinking in a new way about natural systems, considering the many complex interactions.”
DNR also hosted two exhibits at the conference, one about careers in forestry and the other about tree planting for climate change in partnership with Polar Bears International.
In addition to educating approximately 210 students and 40 teachers, the conference host, Wisconsin Center for Environmental Education [exit DNR], took other measures to help the environment including:
- offsetting the day’s energy use by purchasing renewable energy through NatureWise [exit DNR]
- limiting food packaging and providing composting bins at lunch
- relying heavily on the Internet for registration information, rather than mailings, to reduce paper waste
Visit the conference website [exit DNR]to find out more about this annual event. If you would like to learn how climate change may affect Wisconsin’s forests, view a video-taped Forestry and Climate Change lecture by Dorland or contact him at Avery.Dorland@wisconsin.gov or 608-264-6044.
Autumn Sabo is an Educator with the DNR.
New Air Quality Index Poster Available
By Autumn E. Sabo
We created a new Air Quality Index (AQI) poster for schools, nursing homes, health clinics, DNR offices, and other places where people need to understand the current air quality. The poster shows air quality values and associated levels of health concern. An accompanying arrow allows you to indicate the day’s air quality reading and help people adjust the amount of time they spend outdoors when air quality is unhealthy. Groups particularly sensitive to air pollution include children, older adults, and people with respiratory or heart diseases. If you would like to learn more about air quality, visit DNR’s Air Quality and Health web page. To order a free poster, or companion AQI brochures or bookmarks, send an email to DNRAirEducation@wisconsin.gov.