Woodstoves and Environmental Pollution Problems

In five short years, 28 manufacturers have risen to the challenge of woodstoves and environmental pollution problems, the article includes a chart for certified woodstove manufacturers.

| July/August 1986

Reprinted from MOTHER EARTH NEWS NOs 67, 76, 90 and 97. 

In five short years, 28 manufacturers have risen to the challenge of woodstove pollution.

MOTHER EARTH NEWS takes pride in the fact that over five years ago (in issue 67) we took a hard look at one of our own favorite forms of alternative energy — wood heat — and admitted that it had some serious environmental pollution problems. In the intervening years, we've shared current research on woodstove pollution . . . offered all the advice we could on ways to lessen one's wood burning impact (including a build-it yourself retrofit catalytic combuster, in issue 76, page 162) . . . and highlighted the new commercial offerings — from retrofit catalysts (issue 90, page 102) to a new design that burns so cleanly it could conceivably be used without a chimney (issue 9, page 24)! The following piece, condensed from five years of our wood stove coverage and amended with the latest news, offers vital information about the wood burning pollution problem and what you can do about it. 

Woodstoves and Environmental Pollution Problems

If you've spent any time contemplating the curl of smoke from a woodstove flue, you've probably wondered just what was in that cloud . . . and whether it contained pollutants that might someday be recognized as harmful. But if you'd asked the experts before June of 1980, when the Monsanto Corporation completed a study for the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), there really wouldn't have been much they could tell you. Up to that time, there was precious little solid technical information about the specific kinds and quantities of emissions produced by residential wood-fueled appliances and environmental pollution problems.

Since the alarming results of that study were published, though, scientists have rushed to get a handle on the problem. And study after study has confirmed that woodstoves, particularly the airtight models that became popular in the 1970s, do pose significant pollution problems. In some locales, woodstove pollution is quite serious, constituting the major source of particulate emissions. And on a national basis, wood burning produces a significant share of some very dangerous compounds.

According to Dr. Dennis Jaasma, a wood-combustion research scientist at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, the most threatening pollutants are particulates, vapor-phase hydrocarbons, and carbon monoxide. All of these substances can be drawn deep into the lungs through normal breathing and thus pose various respiratory hazards to those exposed to them.

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