News / USA

Officials Target Polluting Wood Stoves

Residential wood stoves are big source of winter air pollution in some parts of US

Fuel-efficient stoves use significantly less firewood than a traditional three-stone stove. This woman in Myanmar is using a pipe to help increase the fire's flames to cook the food.
Fuel-efficient stoves use significantly less firewood than a traditional three-stone stove. This woman in Myanmar is using a pipe to help increase the fire's flames to cook the food.
TEXT SIZE - +
Tom Banse

Winter is setting in in the Pacific Northwest and that means the smell of wood smoke is in the air. For a small percentage of Americans, a wood stove is their only source of heat. For many more, that crackling fire cuts the chill without running up the utility bill.

But the smoke could be making the neighbors sick. For people like Patty Conelly of Pierce County, Washington, who has asthma, going outside in winter can make her throat constrict, seize up and choke.

"I wish that they would cut down on some of the wood burning in Pierce County and all over," she says. "It would certainly help a lot."

Conelly is one of dozens of people to vent on the public comment line at the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency. The agency also hears from people who say now is not the time to crack down on wood stoves.

Old-style wood stoves like this one can still be found in U.S. homes.
Old-style wood stoves like this one can still be found in U.S. homes.

"Particularly during this current economic downturn, any new rules about burning wood would impose an undue hardship and a disproportionate burden financially and realistically in a very physical sense," one caller says.

Another adds, "Probably you guys need to get me a job and pay my electric bill so I don't have to burn the wood. That's my idea."

More than a century after the advent of heating oil and electricity, billions of people worldwide still heat and cook with wood fires. Even in a developed country like the United States, tens of thousands of people light wood stoves and fireplaces for comfort in the chilly months.

However, residential wood stoves are the biggest source of winter air pollution in some parts of New England and the American West. In the developing world, indoor air pollution from smoke is blamed for up to two million deaths per year.

For two decades, federal, state and local agencies have been trying to curtail smoke from older, highly polluting wood stoves and fireplace inserts. The tiny soot particles raise the most concern on calm winter days when the air stagnates.

"Those levels build up when we have an inversion. They can cause lung issues. They can cause heart attacks, strokes," says Craig Kenworthy, who directs the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

A clean, efficient cookstove designed for low-cost manufacturing in Africa.
A clean, efficient cookstove designed for low-cost manufacturing in Africa.

His agency and others offer rebates and other financial incentives to rip out a wood stove and install a cleaner heat source such as a gas or oil furnace. But progress is painfully slow.

"We've changed out 1,200 of the older, more polluting devices in the Tacoma-Pierce County area," says Craig Kenworthy. "There are 24,000 of them still in the area. So that gives you some sense of the scale. You really have a scale question of needing to move forward and having a greater emphasis on getting to those cleaner devices."

In other words, stiffer measures are needed. In the area where Kenworthy works, this year the incentives for stove upgrades more than doubled to get wood burners to switch to natural gas or electric heat. Meanwhile, neighboring Oregon has become the first state in the nation to require home sellers to remove the older, polluting kind of wood stoves when a home is sold.

Fairbanks, Alaska, is another place that knows about bad air in winter. It's trying a low-tech solution: a firewood exchange. Bring in a cord of wet wood and you can go home with a cord of cleaner burning dry wood. Simultaneously, social entrepreneurs from the western U.S. and elsewhere are trying to clear the air in developing nations.

BURN Design Lab founder Peter Scott (right) examines prototypes with Lou Fezio (far left) and Mike Oldani
BURN Design Lab founder Peter Scott (right) examines prototypes with Lou Fezio (far left) and Mike Oldani

Peter Scott founded the non-profit BURN Design Lab near Seattle. "You know, even a bad day in the Pacific Northwest is nothing like a good day in Africa, what people are exposed to there. Maybe this will give people a hint: imagine if you didn't have a chimney in your house and you were supposed to live in that smoke."

In Scott's workshop, engineers and metalsmiths tinker with different cookstove designs. They're mostly compact and portable. Some are optimized to burn charcoal; others - wood, coal, or even animal dung.

"We want to make a stove that uses 50 percent less fuel and produces 90 percent less emissions. We want to do that without a fan or any sort of complicated system. To make a stove for $20 or $25 that's affordable for someone in Africa, that's a real challenge."

According to Scott, his design lab and others are close enough to those goals to move into mass manufacturing.

Scott's non-profit has joined a relatively new initiative called the Global Alliance for Clean Cookstoves. It's led by the United Nations Foundation.

The alliance's director, Radha Muthiah, says cookstoves are gaining attention because the movement addresses a host of timely public concerns.

"So one intervention can address health issues, environmental issues, gender and power-related issues in households, as well as economic livelihood issues. That is very attractive now."

Muthiah can also distill it to a simple motto, "Cooking shouldn't kill." The alliance has recruited some celebrities, including the actress Julia Roberts and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, to help build awareness.

Muthiah also pays attention to market barriers such as affordability. "Even though the price points of these cookstoves has come down, we do still see them in the $25 to $50 range. That is still out of reach of some of these communities that these cookstoves would definitely benefit and impact."

A number of non-profits have discovered a way to solve that stubborn cost issue: subsidize distribution of clean cookstoves with carbon credits. That means big industries in the First World pay to offset their pollution by supporting clean air and reforestation projects elsewhere on the globe.

You May Like

Multimedia Relatives of South Korean Ferry Victims Fire at Authorities

36 people are confirmed dead, but some 270 remain trapped on board More

War Legacy Haunts Vietnam, US Relations

$84 million project aims to clean up soil contaminated by Agent Orange More

Wikipedia Proves Useful for Tracking Flu

Technique gave better results than Center for Disease Control (CDC) and Google’s Flu Trends More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politicsi
X
Michael Eckels
April 19, 2014
There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Ukraine, Russia, United in Faith, Divided in Politics

There is a strong historical religious connection between Russia and Ukraine. But what role is religion playing in the current conflict? In the run-up to Easter, Michael Eckels in Moscow reports for VOA.
Video

Video Face of American Farmer is Changing

The average American farmer is now 58 years old, and farmers 65 and older are the fastest growing segment of the population. It’s a troubling trend signaling big changes ahead for American agriculture as aging farmers retire. Reporter Mike Osborne says a new report from the U.S. Census Bureau is suggesting what some of those changes might look like... and why they might not be so troubling.
Video

Video Donetsk Governor: Ukraine Military Assault 'Delicate But Necessary'

Around a dozen state buildings in eastern Ukraine remain in the hands of pro-Russian protesters who are demanding a referendum on self-rule. The governor of the whole Donetsk region is among those forced out by the protesters. He spoke to VOA's Henry Ridgwell from his temporary new office in Donetsk city.
Video

Video Drones May Soon Send Data From High Seas

Drones are usually associated with unmanned flying vehicles, but autonomous watercraft are also becoming useful tools for jobs ranging from scientific exploration to law enforcement to searching for a missing airliner in the Indian Ocean. VOA’s George Putic reports on sea-faring drones.
Video

Video New Earth-Size Planet Found

Not too big, not too small. Not too hot, not too cold. A newly discovered planet looks just right for life as we know it, according to an international group of astronomers. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.
Video

Video Copts in Diaspora Worry About Future in Egypt

Around 10 percent of Egypt’s population belong to the Coptic faith, making them the largest Christian minority in the Middle East. But they have become targets of violence since the revolution three years ago. With elections scheduled for May and the struggle between the Egyptian military and Islamists continuing, many Copts abroad are deeply worried about the future of their ancient church. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky visited a Coptic church outside Washington DC.
Video

Video Critics Say Venezuelan Protests Test Limits of Military's Support

During the two months of deadly anti-government protests that have rocked the oil-rich nation of Venezuela, President Nicolas Maduro has accused the opposition of trying to initiate a coup. Though a small number of military officers have been arrested for allegedly plotting against the government, VOA’s Brian Padden reports the leadership of the armed forces continues to support the president, at least for now.
Video

Video More Millenials Unplug to Embrace Board Games

A big new trend in the U.S. toy industry has more consumers switching off their high-tech gadgets to play with classic toys, like board games. This is especially true among the so-called millenial generation - those born in the 1980's and 90's. Elizabeth Lee has more from an unusual café in Los Angeles, where the new trend is popular and business is booming.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
AppleAndroid