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    Puget Sound's most dangerous polluter? Your old fireplace

    Wood smoke is a bigger problem for the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency than vehicle emissions. A new program is trying to change all that.

    It's hard to believe a crackling fire and romantic hearth are a major source of carbon pollution in the Puget Sound, but fine particulates released by old non-certified wood burning stoves and fireplaces are the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency's biggest worry.

    “It's about one-thirtieth the size of a human hair and those particles can travel deeply into your lungs and even into your bloodstream," says the agency's Craig Kenworthy.

    The EPA has found that these particles are likely to cause breathing and respiratory problems, and do cause heart attacks, strokes and early death. The chemical cousins they're bound to, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), have been linked to cancer, weakened immune systems and reproductive problems.

    Particulate hot spots include Darrington and Marysville in Snohomish County as well as the Puyallup River Valley. Because of their sheer number of non-certified stoves, Tacoma and parts of urbanized Pierce County are the worst. Kenworthy likens the numbers to having several hundred thousand old cars driving around before catalytic converters were required to meet clean air standards.

    The old cars have largely been phased out. Non-certified stoves have not. 

    Air quality in most of Tacoma and parts of Pierce County is in violation of the Clean Air Act. Originally, Puget Sound's Clean Air Agency had until the end of this year to show the EPA it could reduce the pollution and bring the area into compliance. Because they've made progress — converting 2,000 of the estimated 24,000 wood stoves that don't meet air standards — the deadline has been extended.

    Still, they'll need to convince anywhere from 5,000 to 6,000 more residential homeowners to convert their old stoves or find new heating options by 2015 in order to comply with the EPA mandate.

    The reasons people heat their homes by burning wood vary. Number one is cost: Heating with wood, which is often accessible from palettes and downed trees, is far cheaper than heating with electric. In addition, many homes in Tacoma and Pierce County are old and were set up with wood stoves. Often there are no gas lines.

    To convince people to convert or change-out their old stoves, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency came up with a slogan: “Leave your old flame behind."

    “What we mean by that is get rid of an old uncertified wood burning stove or fireplace," says Amy Warren, the agency's Wood Smoke Reduction Program Manager. “And upgrade it to a cleaner source of heat or just scrap it and be done with it altogether.”

    The agency offers discounts to recycle old wood stoves, buy-back rewards and free heating replacements for those who qualify.

    Nancy Ericksen and her husband, long time residents of Tacoma, recently made the switch. Clean air agency incentives made it an especially attractive option. Particularly after her husband's back surgery, which put a stop to chopping wood.

    “It was really hard to give up the wood stove. I love wood heat, but when the money incentives came around we decided let's take a look at this,” she says. 

    They received a $1500 coupon for the purchase of a new gas stove, the total cost of which was about $3100. They also had to spend $350 out of pocket for the gas company to supply a gas line to their house from the street. But they'll go from spewing out some 244 annual pounds of carbon pollution to 1/6 of a pound annually with the gas stove.

    Another convert, retiree John Hopkins, used to burn wood every day to keep electrical costs down. When he learned that he qualified for an entirely new source of heat at no cost he switched to an electric heat pump.

    “On my income, to be able to replace something that was worn out, take the wood stove and particulates out of the picture and end up with a more efficient operating system was pretty much a no-brainer,” he says.

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    Posted Sun, Mar 30, 1:31 a.m. Inappropriate

    Really? The carbon "fallout" from the wood stove is 250 pounds a season, and the gas heat stove produces less than a half pound? I guess we're ONLY measuring particulates here... not CO2... which, in a larger picture, is ALSO critical. So, give up burning the locally available, renewable fuel, and go for a non-renewable petrochemical fuel, or contribute to the need to clog the Columbia River with those big blocks that make wild salmon (& steelhead, sturgeon, whitefish, & lampreys) an endangered creature. With a plethora of dunnage around our Ports- nearly always kiln-dried- being collected & ground up (or Something), the recommendation is still "burn gas, or get electric"?

    NEVER! I'll take my chances with the wood smoke... and, even if it shortens my life a little, I'd prefer to live within my ecological means... along with getting used to the climate... so that mid-60s is "comfortable". And I'll keep collecting the broken/non-recycled 'palettes'... and remember that "a Graham is better than a dam". (Just ask any cracker who paints!) ^..^


    Posted Sun, Mar 30, 7:39 a.m. Inappropriate

    "and, even if it shortens my life a little, I'd prefer to live within my ecological means"

    Unfortunately all your particulates go out of your chimney and shorten everyone else's life too.


    Posted Sun, Mar 30, 9 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Green Police are out in force.


    Posted Sun, Mar 30, 9:01 a.m. Inappropriate

    The Green Police are out in force.



    Posted Sun, Mar 30, 9:02 a.m. Inappropriate

    You know what the leading cause of death is? Life.


    Posted Mon, Mar 31, 9:27 p.m. Inappropriate

    Considering that every person that lives in this state shares their pollution with everybody else, I have no problem with sharing my wood smoke. Just to tease the neighbors I like to toss a chunk of salmon skin on the wood and let the neighbors think that we eat salmon and as they eat beans and weenies.


    Posted Sun, Apr 6, 12:06 p.m. Inappropriate


    Thank you for publishing this information.

    For more information about urban wood burning, and insights into the often hidden side of wood smoke in our urban communities, here is a link to a Facebook I created in May of 2013. It's called "Citizens for a Wood Smoke Free City of Shoreline, Washington".


    Best of health everyone,
    Deb Marchant'

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