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Wood-fired boiler critics ask state lawmakers for more controlsOpponents and supporters of a bill designed to regulate wood-fired boilers packed a standing-room-only legislative environmental committee hearing on October 15 in Boston.
The bill, which is sponsored by Sen. Stephen Brewer (D-Barre), would restrict the use of wood-fired boilers to a distance of 200 feet from neighboring residences and require boilers to have chimneys higher than neighboring roof lines.
Critics of the bill, including the American Lung Association of New England, say the regulations don't go far enough to prevent air pollution generated by the smoke-generating units. Supporters of the bill say the boilers, when used properly, should be hailed, not reviled, because they reduce the reliance on fossil fuels and pose no threat to neighbors.
Supplying heat, but emitting smoke and particulates, a wood-fired heating unit in Tisbury. Photo by Ezra Blair
Jeff Seyler, chief executive of the American Lung Association of New England, told the Committee on Environment, Natural Resources and Agriculture that the units are a "health hazard," but Mr. Seyler declined to offer any specific position on the distance restrictions or chimney height requirements. Mr. Seyler stopped short of supporting a ban on the units but said in an interview the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection should regulate the units on a case-by-case basis.
Supporters of the bill (S 485) include Central Boiler, Inc., a Minnesota-based wood boiler manufacturer. Company representatives said they support the measure - and similar federal Environmental Protection Agency regulations - because the rules would adequately monitor the use of the units. "We support regulation that is reasonable," said Rodney Tollefson, Central Boiler vice president.
However, Bob McDonald, a resident of Sudbury, testified that his family is suffering from headaches and coughs since a neighbor installed a wood-fired boiler 300 feet from his home a year and a half ago. Mr. McDonald said in an interview he supports a 900-foot setback and is against exemptions, or grandfathering, for existing boilers. "We should treat this as second-hand cigarette smoke issue," said Mr. McDonald.
Meanwhile, West Springfield resident Scott Kellogg testified he has yet to receive a complaint from his neighbors for his wood-fired boiler. Mr. Kellogg said he applied and was approved for permits to install the unit, which he said saves him $2,500 annually, equivalent to 1,000 gallons of oil.
Mr. Kellogg, who is limited to operating his stove from Sept. 1 through May 31, said lawmakers should focus on making sure that boiler owners operate the stoves properly.
"Banning them outright would be a mistake," said Mr. Kellogg.
The environmental committee is co-chaired by Rep. Frank Smizik (D-Brookline) and Sen. Pamela Resor (D-Acton).
The issue of wood-fired boilers arose in Tisbury last year when residents complained about smoke and emissions from two units operating in their neighborhoods. After several meetings and public hearings in June 2006, the Tisbury board of health (BOH) approved a one-year moratorium in order to have time to review the health effects of the smoke and emissions from the furnaces and review regulations.
The board approved new regulations in August that limit the use of the furnaces (available at mvtimes.com) and require a permit from the BOH. Boilers must be a minimum distance of 900 feet from any neighboring house, and only dry seasoned wood may be used.
Catherine Williams is a reporter for the State House News Service.