Connecticut residents against WOOD SMOKE POLLUTION
WOOD SMOKE IS TOXIC POLLUTION - RESIDENTS HAVE A LEGALLY ENFORCEABLE RIGHT TO BE FREE OF IT
EXPOSING THE REALITY OF RESIDENTIAL WOOD SMOKE
UNITING AND SUPPORTING RESIDENTS AFFECTED BY WOOD SMOKE POLLUTION
HOLDING PUBLIC OFFICIALS ACCOUNTABLE
"The American Lung Association recognizes that pollution from the combustion of wood and other biomass sources poses a significant threat to human health, and supports measures to transition away from using these products for heat production. The American Lung Association calls for effective enforcement of existing laws and regulations governing the combustion of wood and other biomass sources, as well as the expanded regulation of air pollution emissions from these sources."
"Wood burning in any form produces nuisance odors and smoke. [...] CT DPH is aware of numerous complaints due to smoke coming from various wood burning devices including “outdoor wood boilers” and wood stoves. [...] Neighbors negatively impacted by wood smoke may file complaints with a number of government agencies."
"Residential wood combustion creates health-damaging air pollution in locations where the public’s exposure is greatest – at home and in neighborhoods where people live."
"Some people like the smell of wood smoke. It reminds them of crisp fall days and winter evenings beside a cozy fire. Most people don’t realize this smell is a danger sign that means their health is being affected as if they were breathing cigarette smoke. Wood smoke is especially harmful to children, the elderly, and people with lung and heart disease."
Connecticut Residents Against Wood Smoke Pollution (CTRAWSP) is a grassroots mechanism available to every resident of the state of Connecticut for the purpose of addressing instances of involuntary exposure to residential wood smoke. CTRAWSP exists 1) to inform residents of the harms of wood smoke pollution and of their legal right to be free of it within the limits of their property; 2) to support residents in the documentation and resolution of their wood smoke pollution issues; and 3) to ensure that public officials enforce the laws concerning wood smoke pollution effectively and efficiently.
Echoing the positions of governmental agencies and mainstream health organizations, it is the contention of CTRAWSP that, outside of emergency situations, residential wood burning is a markedly inappropriate practice for any modern society which has ready access to cleaner forms of heat, electricity, and recreation. Moreover, it is the position of this organization that the existence of residential wood burning is heavily dependent upon the obscuration of its own reality, and that the illumination of its health impacts, presence in the ambient air, and treatment by the State is hazardous to its continuation. In light of this position, CTRAWSP functions primarily as a means of facilitating transparency.
Some Basic Facts About Wood Smoke and Residential Wood Burning
1. Wood smoke is toxic. In addition to being an allergen and an irritant, many of the constituents common to all wood smoke (e.g., fine particulate matter, volatile organic chemicals, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons) are well-established as carcinogenic, mutagenic, and teratogenic. Governmental agencies and mainstream health organizations consider wood smoke to be at least as toxic as tobacco smoke, if not more so. In fact, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) has estimated that "the lifetime cancer risk from wood stove emissions may be 12 times greater than the lifetime cancer risk from exposure to an equal amount of cigarette smoke," and the senior vice president for policy at the American Lung Association of the Northeast has described wood smoke as "more dangerous on a dose-by-dose basis than cigarette smoke." As with tobacco smoke, there is no level of exposure at which wood smoke is known to be safe/nontoxic.
2. While some individuals are inclined to think of wood smoke as a "natural" and, therefore, harmless substance, "natural" is a human construction and its subjective employment as a label has no bearing on a given substance's toxicity. Foxglove, poison ivy, asbestos, and tobacco are all perfectly "natural" products. The same is true of lead, crude oil, and plutonium.
3. The actual, physical range of wood smoke extends well beyond its visible limits. If you can smell wood smoke, you are breathing it.
4. Wood is an unavoidably dirty fuel. Even the cleanest available wood-burning devices pump out orders of magnitude more pollution than heating devices burning standard fuels. An EPA-certified stove, not counting its extremely pollutive startup and refueling stages, and utilizing crib-stacked, kiln-dried wood, emits as much pollution as 108 oil furnaces, or 169 natural gas furnaces - concentrated in a single location.
5. Wood smoke cannot be kept out of homes. All homes (and, in particular, healthy homes) "breathe" - that is, all homes are continuously exchanging indoor air with outdoor air. One can easily imagine the consequences to human life in the absence of this process. The particulate matter which comprises wood smoke is so tiny (2.5 microns or less in diameter) that it easily enters any structure that is less than airtight (i.e., ziplock-bag-tight). Non-wood-burning homes located in neighborhoods where wood burning is common were found to have high levels of wood smoke pollution in their indoor air - as high as 70% of what existed outside. Individuals who burn wood as a matter of routine are literally transforming the composition of the ambient air which enters neighboring homes.
6. Wood fuel is neither a sustainable nor environmentally friendly form of energy. A single northern home would require on average about 10 acres of forested land in order to sustainably harvest one winter's worth of wood fuel. In addition to releasing hazardous air pollutants into the surrounding environment, wood burning emits much more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the burning of other, standard fuels. Additionally, the harvesting, transport, and preparation of wood fuel for modern consumption are all fossil-fuel-intensive processes.
7. Local, state, federal, and international agencies, along with health organizations and doctors, caution residents to avoid their neighbors' wood smoke, and advise individuals who do burn wood - particularly those who do so in the proximity of neighbors - to switch to cleaner forms of heat. Several states actively enforce laws which prohibit individuals from subjecting others to the toxic emissions from their fireplaces, wood stoves, and firepits. Connecticut is one such state. As all wood burning produces high amounts of smoke, the ability to adhere to such laws is largely a function of how much distance exists between oneself and one's neighbors.
8. There exists no right to burn wood. Specifically, there exists no right to burn wood that would grant those who choose to do so special permission to transmit their wood smoke pollution into neighboring properties. Legally speaking, regularly filling the air of neighboring properties with odors from one's wood burning is no more acceptable than filling the air of neighboring properties with odors from one's faulty or failing septic system. What all property owners do have is the right to the exclusive possession and use of their own property - in a manner which does not interfere with another property owner's right to the exclusive possession and use of their own property. Most fundamental to this right is the ability to safely access, use, and enjoy, without infringement, the natural resources essential to human existence (e.g., water, air, soil). Property rights begin and end with property lines.
9. Residents affected by a neighbor's wood burning have brought their neighbors to court, where they have successfully sued for monetary damages and secured injunctions. Wood smoke is treated under tort law primarily as a form of nuisance or physical trespass.
CONNECTICUT'S WOOD SMOKE POLLUTION PROFILE
THE REALITY OF WOOD SMOKE
"In the absence of some genuine and commonly held necessity, residential wood combustion, as with all indiscriminate, unsolicited, and irrefusable broadcasts, acquires as part of its character a kind of flatulence and obscenity. (It is the obscenity of a mode which has endured beyond the loss of its charm, which persists oblivious of its functional and symbolic collapse.) Such is the irony of the [wood fuel consumer] that, while the principle object of his enterprise remains a radically self-contained independence, in the consumption of his fuel not only is he externally dependent, he is transboundarily incontinent; it is exactly by way of his supposedly insular activity that he renders himself explosively beyond himself."
- Allan C. Innes
"The severity of potential health effects and magnitude of populations affected by wood smoke pollutants have led health scientists to conclude that exposure to it should be minimal. Wood smoke is comprised of numerous constituents including PM2.5, carbon monoxide (CO), volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Some VOCs and PAHs are respiratory irritants and also have carcinogenic and mutagenic properties, while carbon monoxide exposure has been associated with adverse respiratory and cardiac effects."
"[I]t is a dangerous misconception that burning wood is a source of clean fuel. In hundreds of studies in towns across the country, wood smoke exposure has been linked to cancer, reproductive issues, such as infant mortality and low birth weight, lung disease, heart attack, stroke and premature death."
"The sentiment that woodsmoke, being a natural substance, must be benign to humans is still sometimes heard. It is now well established, however, that wood-burning stoves and fireplaces as well as wildland and agricultural fires emit significant quantities of known health-damaging pollutants, including several carcinogenic compounds. Two of the principal gaseous pollutants in woodsmoke, CO and NOx, add to the atmospheric levels of these regulated gases emitted by other combustion sources. Health impacts of exposures to these gases and some of the other woodsmoke constituents (e.g., benzene) are well characterized in thousands of publications."
"Higher concentrations of smoke increase the likelihood of adverse health effects. But even at low levels, the substances in wood smoke can be harmful, so when burning wood, it is not only your family and those near the fire who may be exposed, but also neighbors in the surrounding area, some of whom may have underlying health problems. Wood smoke particles are so tiny that they remain suspended for long periods of time and readily penetrate into buildings with incoming cold air. Young children, the elderly, and people with asthma, lung, or heart disease are especially vulnerable to wood smoke in the air."
PARTICULATE MATTER (PM)
Wood Smoke Particles (90%)
Human Spermatozoon (Head)
Red Blood Cell
Grain of Table Salt
Less than 2.5 μm
Up to 10 μm
30 to 50 μm
3,000 μm (3 mm)
VOLATILE ORGANIC CHEMICALS (VOCs)
Examples: Acetaldehyde, Benzene, Formaldehyde
POLYCYCLIC AROMATIC HYDROCARBONS
"PAHs enter the environment mostly as releases to air from volcanoes, forest fires, residential wood burning, and exhaust from automobiles and trucks. They can also enter surface water through discharges from industrial plants and waste water treatment plants, and they can be released to soils at hazardous waste sites if they escape from storage containers. The movement of PAHs in the environment depends on properties such as how easily they dissolve in water, and how easily they evaporate into the air. PAHs in general do not easily dissolve in water. They are present in air as vapors or stuck to the surfaces of small solid particles. They can travel long distances before they return to earth in rainfall or particle settling. Some PAHs evaporate into the atmosphere from surface waters, but most stick to solid particles and settle to the bottoms of rivers or lakes. In soils, PAHs are most likely to stick tightly to particles. Some PAHs evaporate from surface soils to air. Certain PAHs in soils also contaminate underground water. The PAH content of plants and animals living on the land or in water can be many times higher than the content of PAHs in soil or water. PAHs can break down to longer-lasting products by reacting with sunlight and other chemicals in the air, generally over a period of days to weeks. Breakdown in soil and water generally takes weeks to months and is caused primarily by the actions of microorganisms."
Wood smoke can be difficult to notice against a background composed primarily of sky, but it becomes readily apparent when viewed from positions in which the background comprises dark objects, such as other buildings or evergreen trees.
THE INJUSTICE OF RESIDENTIAL WOOD BURNING
"Analysis of the pollution problem as a function of population density uncovers a not generally recognized principle of morality, namely: the morality of an act is a function of the state of the system at the time it is performed. Using the commons as a cesspool does not harm the general public under frontier conditions, because there is no public, the same behavior in a metropolis is unbearable."
"All human beings depend on the environment in which we live. A safe, clean, healthy and sustainable environment is integral to the full enjoyment of a wide range of human rights, including the rights to life, health, food, water and sanitation. Without a healthy environment, we are unable to fulfil our aspirations or even live at a level commensurate with minimum standards of human dignity."
Individuals who burn wood for heat and/or recreation often do so at their neighbors' expense. The status of wood fuel as an economically practicable means of heating one's home depends largely upon the continuation of an incomplete picture of reality, where individuals are allowed to disregard from their heating bills the real costs imposed upon neighbors by their wood-burning emissions.
Meeting the basic requirements of responsible home ownership is neither effortless nor inexpensive. Many of these requirements (e.g., having in place an adequate and approved septic system) exist to protect the health of the public and the rights of neighboring property owners. They are enforced in various ways, by various laws.
THE LAWS CONCERNING WOOD SMOKE POLLUTION
"Unlike health care, if we are able to do our job, you'll never know we were there."
- Bethel Health Department
"We have no trouble concluding that, at least in our society, to have the use and enjoyment of one's home interfered with by smoke, odor, and similar attacks upon one's senses is a serious harm. The social value of allowing people to enjoy their homes is great, and persons subjected to odor or smoke from a neighbor cannot avoid such harm except by moving. One should not be required to close windows to avoid such harm. On the other hand, aside from the simple right to use their property as they wish, it is difficult to assign any particular social value to the [defendant's] wood-burning stove. This method of heating does save on fossil fuels, but assuming that the stove used by the [defendants] emits foul-smelling smoke, society is certainly blessed if only a few people avail themselves of the opportunity to save fuel by using such stoves. The [defendants] could avoid invading the [plaintiff's] property by using other means of heating."
One of the most fundamental roles of any public health agency is to ensure that the health of the residents it serves is not allowed to exist at the mercy of any notion, enterprise, or strain of culture that would either deny the existence of, or treat with disregard, the reality in which the public's health actually resides.
The State of Connecticut addresses wood smoke nuisances according to their source, as shown below.
Note: Connecticut Department of Emergency Services and Public Protection, Division of Connecticut State Police, has declined to state if or under what circumstances smoke from an individual's burning would constitute a violation of any section of Connecticut's penal code. Therefore, while CTRAWSP does not advise against notifying local or state police of nuisances stemming from wood smoke pollution, there is no official State position concerning whether or not such nuisances are subject to any statutes enforced exclusively by police power (e.g., Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-181; Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-181a; or Conn. Gen. Stat. § 53a-182).
*Several towns have banned the installation and/or operation of outdoor wood boilers/furnaces. They include: Avon, Bethel, Cheshire, Clinton, Granby, Haddam, Hamden, Hebron, Norfolk, North Haven, Plainville, Portland, Ridgefield, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, South Windsor, Tolland, West Hartford, and Woodbridge.
1. Naeher, L.P., Brauer, M., Lipsett, M., Zelikoff, J.T., Simpson, C.D., Koenig, J.Q., Smith, K.R. “Woodsmoke health effects: a review.” Inhalation Toxicology 19, no. 1 (2007): 67-106. [https://www.uvm.edu/~susagctr/Documents/Woodsmoke.pdf].
2. Washington. Department of Ecology. “Health Effects of Wood Smoke.” August 2004. [https://drive.google.com/open?id=1gt2_ZLlex954uOvmsmlNb7iPwOMmp6Jt].
3. Skelton, Kathryn. “'More dangerous on a dose-by-dose basis than cigarette smoke': Concerns about wood-stove smoke prompt state review.” Bangor Daily News, November 24, 2013. [http://bangordailynews.com/2013/11/24/news/state/more-dangerous-on-a-dose-by-dose-basis-than-cigarette-smoke-concerns-about-wood-stove-smoke-prompt-state-review].
4. California. California Environmental Protection Agency. California Air Resources Board. Enforcement Division. Compliance Assistance Program. “Wood Burning Handbook: Protecting the Environment and Saving Money.” 2005. [https://www.arb.ca.gov/research/indoor/wood_burning_handbook.pdf].
5. United States. Environmental Protection Agency. Burn Wise Energy Efficiency. [https://www.epa.gov/burnwise/burn-wise-energy-efficiency].
6. Washington. Department of Ecology. “How Wood Smoke Harms Your Health.” July 2012. [https://fortress.wa.gov/ecy/publications/publications/91br023.pdf].
7. Alaska. Department of Environmental Conservation. Division of Air Quality. Burn Wise Alaska: What You Can Do About Wood Smoke. [http://burnwise.alaska.gov/actions.htm].