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Burning Up

Letter to the Editor:

I recently passed Introductory Resolution 2113, a Local Law to regulate the use of outdoor wood-burning furnaces in Suffolk County. My legislation clearly defines an outdoor wood-burning furnace as an apparatus that is located outside of the primary structure and is used to heat the indoor living space. They are typically 6 ft by 6ft by 6 ft and have a chimney with a maximum height of 12 feet.

The law does not affect indoor fireplaces, wood-burning stoves or coal-burning stoves (all of which have chimneys that emit the smoke above the roofline), nor does it affect small outdoor fire pits, fireplaces or barbeques.

The legislation was in response to a constituent from Medford, who contacted my office regarding a problem she was having with a neighbor. She explained that every fall her neighbor fires up one of these devices, which literally fills the neighborhood with smoke. I personally visited her home and she provided me with pictures and video that clearly depict the problem. She had attempted to redress the situation with the Suffolk County Health Department; however; no regulation existed.

Outdoor wood-burning furnaces create both a health risk and a public nuisance when operated in a suburban neighborhood. This is of greater significance when the operator burns wood that has been treated, painted, laminated, etc. These health risks have been demonstrated by the United States Environmental Protection Agency and documented in a report issued in October 2005 by New York State Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

The report notes that an outdoor wood-burning device produces 71.6 grams per hour of particulate matter as opposed to 18.5 grams by a conventional woodstove (that does not meet EPA standards), and 4.1 grams by a woodstove that meets all of the EPA standards. In addition these devices emit 0.96 grams per hour of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, 0.6 grams more than the conventional non-EPA certified woodstove (0.36 grams).

It has been clearly established that particulate matter can lead to a variety of lung disease including asthma, bronchitis and emphysema; and hydrocarbons are carcinogenic. Due to the short chimney the smoke is being spewed out and into neighboring homes.

Further, manufacturers and some of those who oppose my legislation, stated that these devices save homeowners money in energy costs. However, the report refutes this assumption as well. It states that the average installation costs of an outdoor wood burning device (with 43% efficiency) is $5,500 as opposed to $2,075 for an indoor woodstove (with 68% efficiency), and $2,690 for a gas or oil fueled forced air furnace (with 90% efficiency).

In addition, fuel costs for these units are much more than any other system with the exception of electricity. Based upon the report, the average total household energy cost for an outdoor wood-burning device is $1,977, while it is $1,840 for oil and $1,449 for gas.

As mentioned above, the EPA has regulations and standards in place that affect indoor fireplaces, woodstoves and coal stoves. However, those standards do not apply to outdoor wood-burning devices. As a result, localities have stepped up to fill the void.

As of the 2005 report, 11 municipalities in New York State have banned the devices and an additional four have severely limited their use. These municipalities are in the upstate counties of Oneida, St. Lawrence, Saratoga, Otsego, Jefferson, Lewis and Washington; all much less populated than Suffolk. The latest municipality to recognize and address this matter was the Town of Brookhaven.

After submitting the resolution I received letters and e-mails from residents throughout Suffolk County, all in favor. Citizens from Huntington to Southampton have explained how these devices have had a negative impact on their quality of life. By nature, an outdoor wood-burning device is designed for a rural community where homes are spread apart and cheap firewood is readily available, not in most areas of Suffolk County.

Suffolk County Legislator

January 02, 2007


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