Clean air means ditching old stoves

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

When it comes to keeping air quality high from home heating sources, you’ve been good in recent years, residents of Puget Sound.

But a regulatory agency believes you might fall off the wagon this coming cold season.

With high energy prices and the prospect of some cold weather, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is worried about increased air pollution from wood stoves. Of particular concern is the likelihood that some folks will crank up old, noncertified wood stoves that spew as much smoke as heat.

An agency spokeswoman Wednesday urged residents who own old stoves to either not use them or switch to a more efficient brand of wood, pellet or gas stove.

"We have really made huge strides as a region due to getting rid of really bad old wood stoves," agency spokeswoman Alice Collingwood said.

The agency covers four counties and operates under state and federal guidelines and laws requiring clean air. It is a regulatory agency, but also plans and educates the public.

There’s no question there are a lot of wood stoves throughout the region, especially in Snohomish County, Collingwood said.

A regional survey indicates that one in five households throughout the four counties has a wood stove. In Snohomish County, it’s 30 percent, she said.

More wood stoves are found in rural areas, particularly in sections that don’t have natural gas available. A lot of folks use wood stoves as a backup for power outages.

Here’s a local example of progress.

In the early 1990s, Collingwood said, the topography in the Marysville area made it one of the most polluted sections within the four counties.

Collingwood said, "The smoke just settled in there when there was an air inversion" and no wind or rain.

But Marysville folks apparently heeded that news, and the problem has abated, she said.

"Right now we’re doing pretty darn well," she said. "We don’t want to see an upward trend in bad air days."

Not only does the federal Environmental Protection Agency keep tabs on such things as pollution from wood smoke, industry and vehicle emissions, it also can require regions to meet certain standards.

That’s one reason why the agency issued a warning to try and stem a possible "spike" in one of our main winter pollution sources.

There are practical reasons for keeping the smoke down, too.

Your neighbor might well have some sort of respiratory disease that’s irritated by wood smoke.

There are plenty of clean-burning options on the market nowadays, said Kirk Newby of the Northwest Hearth Products Association, a trade group representing manufacturers and dealers.

"The good news from a consumer’s standpoint is by settling on a clean-burning appliance they can get cleaner glass, a cleaner chimney, less air pollution and more heat in the room," Newby said.

Gas is the cleanest-burning device, followed by wood pellets. Wood stoves come in last.

But newer wood stoves, built after 1988, should be efficient. To find out if yours has been approved, look for a metal plate on the back indicating that the stove has been certified by the EPA. If the plate’s not there, chances are you have an inefficient stove, Newby said.

"It’s a dirty burner and a candidate for replacement," Newby added.

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