Associated Press: NY panel enacts outdoor furnace regulations

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DECEMBER 22, 2010
Associated Press

ALBANY, N.Y. — New outdoor wood furnaces sold in New York state will have to comply with strict air pollution regulations approved by a state environmental board Wednesday.

The regulations, which take effect in 30 days, are designed to reduce pollution and adverse health impacts from the furnaces, also called boilers. The heaters are growing in popularity in rural areas because they save hundreds or thousands of dollars a year by using wood often harvested on the farmer's or homeowner's own land.

State Department of Environmental Conservation Acting Commissioner Peter Iwanowicz likened the regulation of the wood-fired furnaces to the switch to cleaner cars equipped with catalytic converters.

He said the new regulations prevent New York state from becoming a "dumping ground" for inefficient, polluting boilers that can no longer be sold in neighboring states that have enacted similar rules.

An outdoor wood furnace, which looks like an outhouse with a chimney, burns wood to heat water that's piped to the home's radiator system. It can also be used to provide the home's hot water.

After public hearings this year, DEC shelved regulations that would apply to existing boilers. Iwanowicz said revised rules for existing boilers would be presented in public meetings.

A contingent of Assembly Republicans attended the environmental board meeting to oppose the new rules, which they said were rushed through without sufficient public comment. DEC held public hearings throughout the state in June but has since modified the regulations.

Republican Assemblyman-elect Ken Blankenbush, whose rural district in northern New York has numerous small farms and homes that rely on wood boilers, said the regulations will put a harsh financial burden on struggling families because compliant furnaces cost an estimated $10,000, more than twice what older models cost.

Blankenbush said concerns about smoke bothering neighbors don't apply in his district.

"Some of the farmers are miles away from other farmers," Blankenbush said. "I believe it should be the local municipalities with their zoning laws that should administer the regulations."

Dean Norton, president of the state Farm Bureau, said the new regulations put a financial hardship on thousands of rural residents.

Several municipalities around the state have banned outdoor wood boilers altogether.

Iwanowicz said at least 20 companies make wood boilers that comply with the new regulations. He said the price is likely to come down due to increased competition when sale of the older, smoky furnaces are banned.

The new regulations ensure that wood furnaces will burn at least 90 percent cleaner than older models. Smokestack height requirements of 18 feet and property line setbacks of at least 100 feet, further ensure that neighboring property owners won't be subjected to wood smoke, which contains fine particles linked to asthma, heart and lung disease, and other health problems.

Regulations also require that only seasoned, clean wood or wood pellets be used as fuel in both existing and new furnaces. Burning of tires, trash, construction debris, waste oil, animal carcasses and various other things is prohibited.

Scott Santarella, president of the American Lung Association in New York, urged the DEC to quickly enact regulations for existing boilers, too.

"More New Yorkers have contacted the Lung Association about breathing problems they attribute to living near these devices than any other air quality issue," he said.