Air district stiffens wood burning rules

As winter weather approaches and homes and businesses begin firing up fireplaces and heaters, the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has strengthened its wood burning regulations, including prohibiting wood burning devices from being installed in new buildings.

The Bay Area Air Quality Management District Board of Directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to adopt stronger new provisions that improve the agency’s current wood burning rules with the intention of better protecting the public against fine particle pollution.

“The board took an important step strengthening a rule that has been successful in reducing particulate matter in the winter and delivering public health benefits,” air district executive officer Jack Broadbent said in a statement.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, fine particle pollution is a hazardous mix of extremely small particles and droplets composed of acids, organic chemicals, metals, soil, or dust often found in smoke and haze. Fine particle pollution can cause increased respiratory problems as well as lung and heart complications, according to the EPA.

Air district spokesman Aaron Richardson said wood burning accounts for 40 percent of the Bay Area’s fine particle pollution.

“Fine particle pollution is associated with all kinds of respiratory issues such as bronchitis,” Richardson said. “Also because particles are so small, they can pass through the lungs and into the bloodstream, which have caused heart attacks and premature deaths in the Bay Area.” According to the air district’s analysis of emissions, the existing wood burning regulations adopted in July 2008 have been effective in reducing fine particle pollution in the Bay Area, Richardson said.

The new amendments to the air district’s wood burning regulation include stricter regulations on permitting visible emissions, requiring that all Bay Area wood heater manufacturers and retailers comply with EPA standards, requiring buildings to replace wood-burning devices or fireplaces not certified by the EPA, stopping wood burning devices from being installed in new buildings, and requiring all properties to disclose the health hazards of fine particles from wood or solid fuel-burning heat sources.

The air district’s board of directors also approved exemptions which would be granted to households whose sole source of heat is a wood-burning device or households with heaters in need of repairs. However, households will still need to submit documentation to be eligible for these exemptions.

In addition, according to Broadbent, the board issued a resolution directing staff to reconvene in five years with a proposal to ban all wood burning on winter “Spare the Air” Days.

In the spring, the air district hosted nine workshops throughout the Bay Area to discuss initial concepts on the proposed amendments to the rule with Bay Area residents and stakeholders. As a result of the workshops, the air district revised the initial drafts, which the public was invited to comment on up until Monday.

This upcoming spring, the air district will open a change out grant program for fireplaces and wood-burning stoves. Funding priority will go to low-income residents and high wood smoke impact areas, air district officials said.

“We’re hoping to ensure that the amendments will continue to ensure wood smoke pollution goes down in the region,” Richardson said. “The rule has been successful and we want to make sure it continues to move forward.”