The EPA has taken the progressive step of basing policy revisions on the probable link between particulate pollution and lung disease.
PHOTO: FOTOLIA/BETSY BARANSKI
Learn about the EPA and woodstove industry trends for 1997.
The American Lung Association estimates 60,000 people die premature deaths each year as a result of the effects of particulate pollution. But, as is often the case with environmental causes of death and disease, explicit scientific evidence is murky. Often science cannot isolate any single environmental cause for disease, yet logic and circumstantial evidence incriminate pollutants. Rather than wait for overwhelming data, the EPA has taken the progressive step of basing policy revisions on the probable link between particulate pollution and lung disease. Imagine how many lives would have been saved if the FDA could have done the same thing with cigarettes years before science unequivocally proved what we already knew in our hearts (and lungs).
The EPA's revisions to the National Ambient Air Quality Standard were adopted in June at the end of a court-ordered review of particulate-matter standards, resulting from the American Lung Association's lawsuit against the EPA in 1995. The lawsuit charged that the standards, which regulated particulates with a diameter of 10 microns or less, were not in compliance with the Federal Clean Air Act. Ten microns is about one-seventh the width of a human hair, but the ALA argues it is the invisible tiny particles—2.5 microns or less in diameter—that are the most hazardous. They are so small; they are more like gases and can lodge deep inside the lungs. (These particulates come from cars and trucks, diesel buses, power plants, factories, and wood smoke. )
In 1990, when the EPA began regulating particulates smaller than 10 microns, woodstove manufacturers kicked and screamed and threw money at Congress, claiming that regulations would kill the industry. Like it or not, the regulations forced the industry to adopt technology that was readily available, and their products became better—not only cleaner-burning, but much more efficient. The new stricter regulations of 1997, which set standards for allowable concentrations of particulates 2.5 microns or less, will have little to no effect on most manufacturers who have already begun replacing old stoves with the newer high-tech, clean-burning models that have been coming out within the last five years. As a result, the new regulations are being met with relatively little fanfare in the woodstove industry.
City bus fleets and power plants have the most work to do to come into compliance with new particulate standards, and they are facing costly industrial redesigns. However, the technology for zero emissions vehicles not only exists but could considerably improve current models. It just may take regulations to force industry and local governments to follow in the footsteps of the stove industry and make use of better technology.
Other Woodstove Trends for 1997
Woodstoves are certified by independent labs to be in compliance with EPA standards, but coal and pellet stoves, due to low emissions, remain unregulated. Pellet stoves, for instance, entered the market at a highly competitive time, but they continue to make their mark; they are convenient and ecologically sound, and they get you away from the gas company. Along the same lines, clean-burning anthracite coal, though hardly stirring up as big a frenzy as the Pennsylvania coal industry wants to believe, is certainly growing in popularity.
"This is the fuel. It doesn't smoke. It doesn't smell; there's no creosote build up," says Jack Stauffenberg, international sales manager for Blaschak Coal Co, in Mahonoy City, PA.
Anthracite coal is glassy and hard, and referred to as "black marble." It is the oldest coal geologically and is deepest in the ground. Other younger and dirtier types of coal are bituminous coal, also known as acid rain coal, and lignite coal, the brown, young coal used often in power plants. These coals are largely responsible for the unbearable pollution, acid rain, and massive destruction of forests and ecosystems in Eastern Europe, and the reason nuclear power is so popular in that part of the world.
Americans use coal in power plants too, but the American phenomenon of using coal in wood stoves is fairly recent. Now you can buy coal stoves like pellet stoves with hoppers and automatic augers for coal. Direct vent with no chimney, they're called "automatic coal stokers," and they cost slightly less than a pellet stove, ranging from $1,500-$2,300. The Harman DVC-500 Direct Vent Coal Stoker is a basic one, and for a coal stove designed to be maintenance-free, since there are no moving parts in the feed, take a look at the Hitzer E-Z Flo, hand built by Amish Craftsmen.
Anthracite Coal produces twice as much heat as pellets. The advantage of coal is that it will heat a bigger space for a longer time. A disadvantage tage used to be dust, but now distributors' washes and bags damp coal, eliminating dust. According to Blaschak Coal Company, a 501b bag of anthracite sells for $5.50. Supposedly 3 bags a week will heat a medium-sized home. The disadvantage, of course, is dependence on a non-renewable resource. (Blaschak claims that there are reserves of coal in Pennsylvania to last for 150-200 years.) Clean-burning anthracite coal comes only from Pennsylvania. Originally, it was used primarily in the Northeast. But, it is grabbing a hold in the Midwest, and distributors say they are expanding west, especially in the Rocky Mountain region and the Pacific Northwest.