Wood-fired boiler rules postponed till March
By GITTE LAASBY firstname.lastname@example.org January 31, 2011 5:24PM
Leslie Adkins/Post-Tribune Wood boiler that is made of recycled material is used for heat which is piped into his dome home in Miller, July 11, 2007. Marshall Willoghby, has been living off the land for the past three years.
Updated: March 2, 2011 12:31AM
State officials were scheduled to adopt Indiana’s first state-wide rules for use of wood-fired boilers Wednesday, but winter storms have postponed the meeting till March.
All of Indiana’s major environmental groups expressed concerns about the controversial rules, saying they are inadequate to protect neighbors from smoke that’s dangerous to people’s health.
“We are not trying to ban outdoor wood boilers. We just want to make sure that neighbors living near these units are not subjected to a smoke assault 24 hours a day, 365 days a year,” Jodi Perras, executive director of Improving Kids’ Environment, said.
So far, the Indiana Department of Environmental Management, which formulated the rules, has been unwilling to budge to concerns from groups including Improving Kids’ Environment, the Hoosier Environmental Council, Save the Dunes, the Sierra Club Hoosier Chapter, the Legal Environmental Aid Foundation, the Izaak Walton League and the Indiana Public Health Association.
Wood-fired boilers, or hydronic heaters, are freestanding appliances that look like a small shed with a smoke stack. They burn wood to heat or provide hot water for homes through underground pipes.
Air pollution from the units is a concern because it contains carcinogens and soot that can aggravate asthma, lung disease, other respiratory illnesses and cardiovascular diseases. Older adults and children are particularly at risk.
IDEM said the proposed rules will require new units to burn cleaner and emit less soot.
The agency wants to ban operation of the most polluting units between June 1 and Aug. 31 of each year. Environmental groups argued that the ban period should be May through September, which coincides with Indiana’s open burning laws and when Indiana has the most air pollution problems. IDEM countered that outdoor heaters may be the only heating source for some people.
IDEM proposed existing units be required to have a smoke stack five feet taller than buildings located within 150 feet of an occupied building. To lower people’s cost to comply with the rules, IDEM suggested the maximum height required would be 22 feet. Environmentalists said a 300-foot distance and no maximum height are needed to ensure that smoke is dispersed. Studies have shown the particles that the units emit are so small they can penetrate into closed buildings.
“IDEM feels that the maximum stack height is necessary because IDEM does not want to prohibit the use of outdoor hydronic heaters as a home heating option when the unit has already been installed,” the agency said. “It is not just the cost of extending the stack that is an issue, but the fact that there are situations where it could be impossible to meet the requirements of the rule.”
Environmentalists and unit neighbors wanted the rules to contain a nuisance provision under which officials can enforce if a unit bothers neighbors with too much smoke. Under the proposed rules, it’s too hard for regular people to determine whether a unit pollutes too much, they argued.
“Since only trained smoke readers can accurately determine opacity, neither the unit owners nor their neighbors will be certain when a unit is in compliance,” Perras said. “IDEM does not have capacity to provide inspectors to monitor operations and take smoke readings at multiple homes around the state.”
IDEM said nuisance rules are “difficult and costly to enforce.”
“While they sound like a great idea, in practice, they tend to be subjective and are too difficult to implement,” IDEM said in response to comments. “The proposed rule provides a minimum set of standards for operation to reduce health impacts, air emissions, and nuisances.”
The Air Pollution Control Board is scheduled to take a vote on the rules at its March 2 meeting in Lafayette.
The rulemaking has been under way since 2005.
Contact Gitte Laasby at 648-2183.