The smell of wood smoke wafting on a cold winter's night may be a hallmark of life in the Northland, but the federal government says it also may be a health hazard.
The Environmental Protection Agency on Friday moved to reduce pollution from new woodstoves, wood boilers and pellet stoves used for heating purposes starting in 2015.
The new nationwide rules would not affect fireplaces or wood burners already in people's homes and businesses but would restrict the sale of new wood burners to those that emit about 80 percent less pollution than old models - namely particulate matter, carbon monoxide and organic compounds.
The new rules, in the works for more than two years, also do not apply to campground or backyard fire pits or wood-fired barbecues.
Particle pollution, or soot, is linked to a wide range of serious health effects, including heart attacks, strokes and asthma attacks. Several studies have linked wood smoke to premature death among people who suffer from heart and lung disease.
Many wood furnaces and stoves burn inefficiently, sending a lot of smoke, creosote and soot up the chimney. That particulate matter builds up to cause smog, sometimes in levels unhealthy to people in places like Denver, Albuquerque, N.M., and Fresno, Calif.
"Smoke from residential woodstoves and heaters is a significant source of harmful, fine-particle pollution in many areas of the country," said Janet McCabe, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Air and Radiation. "Today's proposed rule would make new stoves and heaters more efficient and about 80 percent cleaner starting in 2015."
She said that by reducing air pollution associated with asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes, the new rules will save Americans up to $2.4 billion a year in health care costs.
Indoor wood burning stoves and outdoor wood boilers are a popular method of heating in the Northland with the region's abundant and inexpensive supply of firewood, especially in rural areas. A Minnesota Pollution Control Agency survey found state residents burned about 1.3 million cords of wood over the winter of 2011-2012 for heat and pleasure, double the amount of 10 years ago and the highest since the energy crisis of the late 1970s.
The survey found the highest level of wood burning in the northeastern region of the state
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates 11.5 million U.S. homes heat with wood. The EPA says about 85,700 wood-burning heating devices will be made and sold annually by 2015.
For wood stoves, the new rules would require a maximum of 4.5 grams per hour of pollution in 2015 and reducing that to 1.5 grams per hour by 2020.
Daryl Lamppa, president of Lamp Manufacturing stove works in Tower, has been making high efficiency wood burning stoves for years. His design already meets the new federal standards. In tests conducted by an EPA-certified independent lab in Wisconsin in 2011, his stoves produced less than 1 gram of particulates per hour - and in some tests as low as 0.45 grams.
"We're already there. This is good news for us,'' Lamppa told the News Tribune on Friday, who said the key to increasing pollutants is by vastly increasing efficiency - how well and how completely the wood burns. "But there are a lot of stoves on the market out there that are going to have to make some serious changes... or get out of the business."
Lamppa said his plant is nearly two months behind in meeting orders for his patented Kuuma Vapor Fire indoor wood gasification furnaces. The federal government already has required a thermal efficiency rating of 75 or higher to qualify for the current federal energy tax credit for stoves. The Kuuma hit 84 percent. Lamppa's stove, intended to replace an indoor furnace, has a fuel combustion efficiency rating between 98.1 and 99.4 percent.
Meanwhile, for outdoor wood boilers, also called hydronic heaters, emissions would be limited to 0.32 pounds per million Btu heat output, with a cap of 7.5 grams per hour starting in 2015 and then a limit of 0.06 pounds per million Btu by 2020.
While the new EPA rules do not apply to traditional indoor fireplaces, at least for now, the EPA has invited comments on whether new fireplaces should be included.
The EPA also is considering allowing until 2023 for the final restrictions to be in place, depending on public comments. The agency will take comments on the proposal now before it becomes final next year.
For more information on burning wood for heat, and the new wood burner regulations, go to epa.gov/burnwise.