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.
    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

    Vietnam Urges US to Lift Lethal Weapons Ban Amid S. China Sea Tensions

    US president’s upcoming visit to Vietnam underscores strength of relationship, and lifting embargo would reflect that trust, ambassador says

    What Your First Name Says About Who You Support for President

    Bobby, Betty and Curtis tend to support Donald Trump while people named Juan, Liz or Mohammad are more likely to lean toward Hillary Clinton

    South Pole Diary: In Round-the-clock Darkness, Radiant Moon Shines Like the Sun

    You hear more and see more when the moon first comes out; it’s your senses in overdrive, tuning into a new world.

    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.
    Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroadi
    X
    May 02, 2016 1:36 PM
    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Displaced By War, Syrian Artist Finds Inspiration Abroad

    Saudi-born Syrian painter Mohammad Zaza is among the millions who fled their home for an uncertain future after Syria's civil war broke out. Since fleeing Syria, Zaza has lived in Lebanon, Egypt, Jordan and now Turkey where his latest exhibition, “Earth is Blue like an Orange,” opened in Istanbul. He spoke with VOA about how being displaced by the Syrian civil war has affected the country's artists.
    Video

    Video Ethiopia’s Drought Takes Toll on Children

    Ethiopia is dealing with its worst drought in decades, thanks to El Nino weather patterns. An estimated 10 million people urgently need food aid. Six million of them are children, whose development may be compromised without sufficient help, Marthe van der Wolf reports for VOA from the Metahara district.
    Video

    Video Little Havana - a Slice of Cuban Culture in Florida

    Hispanic culture permeates everything in Miami’s Little Havana area: elderly men playing dominoes as they discuss politics, cigar rollers deep at work, or Cuban exiles talking with presidential candidates at a Cuban coffee window. With the recent rapprochement between Cuba and United States, one can only expect stronger ties between South Florida and Cuba.
    Video

    Video California Republicans Weigh Presidential Choices Amid Protests

    Republican presidential candidates have been wooing local party leaders in California, a state that could be decisive in selecting the party's nominee for U.S. president. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports delegates to the California party convention have been evaluating choices, while front-runner Donald Trump drew hundreds of raucous protesters Friday.
    Video

    Video Kurdish Football Team Helps War-Torn City Cope

    With the conflict still raging across much of Turkey’s predominantly Kurdish southeast, between the rebel PKK and the Turkish state, many Kurds are trying to escape the turmoil by focusing on the success of their football team Amedspor in Diyarbakir. The club is increasingly becoming a symbol for Kurds, not only in Diyarbakir but beyond. Dorian Jones reports from southeast Turkey.
    Video

    Video ‘The Lights of Africa’ - Through the Eyes of 54 Artists

    An exhibition bringing together the work of 54 African artists, one from each country, is touring the continent after debuting at COP21 in Paris. Called "Lumières d'Afrique," the show centers on access to electricity and, more figuratively, ideas that enlighten. Emilie Iob reports from Abidjan, the exhibition's first stop.
    Video

    Video Pakistani School Helps Slum Kids

    Master Mohammad Ayub runs a makeshift school in a public park in Islamabad. Thousands of poor children have benefited from his services over the years, but, as VOA's Ayesha Tanzeem reports, roughly 25 million school-age youths don't get an education in Pakistan.
    Video

    Video Florida’s Weeki Wachee ‘Mermaids’ Make a Splash

    Since 1947, ‘mermaids’ have fascinated tourists at central Florida’s Weeki Wachee Springs State Park with their fluid movements and synchronized ballet. Performing underwater has its challenges, including cold temperatures and a steady current, as VOA’s Lin Yang and Joseph Mok report.
    Video

    Video Somali, African Union Forces Face Resurgent Al-Shabab

    The Islamic State terror group claimed its first attack in Somalia earlier this week, though the claim has not been verified by forces on the ground. Meanwhile, al-Shabab militants have stepped up their attacks as Somalia prepares for elections later this year. Henry Ridgwell reports there are growing frustrations among Somalia’s Western backers over the country’s slow progress in forming its own armed forces to establish security after 25 years of chaos.
    Video

    Video Documentary Tells Tale of Chernobyl Returnees

    Ukraine this week is marking the 30th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant. Soviet officials at first said little about the accident, but later evacuated a 2,600-square-kilometer "exclusion zone." Some people, though, came back. American directors Holly Morris and Anne Bogart created a documentary about this faithful and brave community. VOA's Tetiana Kharchenko reports from New York on "The Babushkas of Chernobyl." Carol Pearson narrates.
    Video

    Video Nigerians Feel Bite of Buhari Economic Policy

    Despite the global drop in the price of oil, Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari has refused to allow the country's currency to devalue, leading to a shortage of foreign exchange. Chris Stein reports from Lagos businessmen and consumers are feeling the impact as the country deals with a severe fuel shortage.
    Video

    Video  Return to the Wild

    There’s a growing trend in the United States to let old or underused golf courses revert back to nature. But as Erika Celeste reports from one parcel in Grafton, Ohio, converting 39 hectares of land back to green space is a lot more complicated than just not mowing the fairway.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora