Albany Times Union: Dirty wood boilers facing the scrap heap

(April 23, 2010)

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Smoky outdoor units made obsolete by tougher state rules
 
By BRIAN NEARING Staff writer 
First published: Friday, April 23, 2010

ALBANY -- Thousands of polluting outdoor wood-fired boilers, used mainly by people who live in the country as a way to trim energy bills, will have to be scrapped over the next decade under proposed state rules announced Thursday.

"This proposal will ensure that new outdoor wood boilers are cleaner, and that existing boilers be used in the most environmentally sound way possible," state Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said.

Under the rules, boilers in use since before September 2005 must be taken out by August 2015. Newer models installed through April 2011 will have to be gone no later than August 2020.

Some boiler models currently sold in New York meet the proposed new emissions requirements, while others do not, DEC spokeswoman Lori Severino said.

The dirtiest versions of obsolete boilers can emit the same amount of air pollution as 1,000 oil furnaces, the agency says. The state Attorney General's Office estimates more than 14,500 boilers were installed in the state between 1999 and 2007.

"State agencies and local governments have received significant numbers of complaints regarding outdoor boilers over the past few years," said Severino. "Complaints like triggering asthma and other ailments, smoke and other unpleasant odors in homes and decreased property values."

Some rules on boilers, like minimum exhaust stack heights, would take effect immediately, once DEC finalizes the rules, she said.

Boilers are banned from operation between May 15 and Aug. 31 in Clinton, Essex, Franklin, Fulton, Hamilton, Herkimer, Jefferson, Lewis, Oneida, Oswego, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Warren and Washington counties. Outside those counties, boiler use would be prohibited between April 15 and September 30.

The proposed rules contain no provisions for the state to offer rebates or other incentives to homeowners who must replace their boilers, which can cost $5,000 or more when new. The rules contain penalties of from $375 to $15,000 for violations.

Health advocates welcome the rules. "For far too long New Yorkers have suffered because of exposure to the toxic smoke and unhealthy levels of particulate matter that outdoor wood boilers emit," said Scott Santarella, president and CEO of the American Lung Association in New York.

Beecroft's Shooters Supply, a Shaghticoke dealer of Central Boilers, a wood-fired boiler company from Minnesota, referred a reporter's questions to Central Boilers. A call for comment left with the company was not returned.

The proposed rules would also allow DEC or local police to write nuisance violations against boiler owners for cases when smoke sets off a neighbor's smoke detector, obscures a road or even makes contact with a neighboring building.

The rules would also put a halt to the burning of anything other than clean wood in boilers. Banned as fuel would be yard waste, garbage, paints, household chemicals, plywood, and animal carcasses.

Vermont, Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts have already enacted similar rules.

Rules and hearings

Proposed state rules for wood-fired boilers are available online at http://www.dec.ny.gov/regulations/64459.html.

The Department of Environmental Conservation is holding a public hearing the rules at 6 p.m. June 8, in the DEC central headquarters, 625 Broadway, Albany. Other statewide hearings include June 10 in Herkimer and June 23 in Saranac Lake.