The Catskill Daily Mail: NY enacts new regs for OWBs

(December 25, 2010)

Published: Saturday, December 25, 2010

New outdoor wood boilers sold in New York state will have to comply with strict air pollution regulations approved by a state environmental board Wednesday.

The new standards will require that new OWBs burn 90 percent cleaner than the old ones, that their stacks be at least 18 feet high and that they be set back at least 100 feet from adjoining properties. Materials that can be burned are strictly defined.

The regulations, which take effect in 30 days, are designed to reduce pollution and adverse health impacts from the 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.

He noted that an exception had been made for agricultural operations, where OWBs will have to be 100 feet from a neighboring home, rather than from the property line.

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.

New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton called the DEC “the grinch who stole Christmas,” because it “stepped way outside reasonable government protocol by bypassing public comment on a new set of regulations that will affect thousands of rural New Yorkers who heat their homes with wood boilers.

“These regulations come at a time when fuel oil prices are skyrocketing and with a harsh winter forecast,” he said. “DEC promised to hold a public comment period for the regulations they passed today. They didn’t.”

Taking the opposite point of view was the American Lung Association. In a press release, ALA President and CEO Scott Santarella said the association was pleased with this “step toward improving New Yorkers’ air quality and lung health.”

“While we are encouraged the board decided to move forward in approving new emission limits and setback and stack height requirements for new residential and commercial outdoor wood boilers,” he stated, “we continue to urge their action in adopting regulations which limit pollution from boilers now in use.”

The toxic smoke from outdoor wood boilers contains particulate matter, carbon monoxide, irritant gases and known or suspected carcinogens, such as dioxin, all of which have negative impacts on air quality and lung health, Santarella stated.

“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 wrote.

Vice-President and Old Chatham farmer Eric Ooms was unhappy with the way the DEC went about the change.

“They had a public comment period in the summer and fall, and they were inundated,” he said. “At that time they announced they were going back to the drawing board, and they’d do nothing else without further public comment. The process stinks.”

He said it bears all the earmarks of “a group of people who won’t be around in 10 days trying to make their mark.

“Some of these regulations make sense, but the process is terrible,” Ooms said.

The regulations define a “new outdoor wood boiler” as one that commences operation on or after April 15, 2011. Particulate emissions for a residential burner are limited to .32 pounds per million British thermal units of heat output.