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Romance of Wood Fires Ended by Anti-Pollution Rules

February 21, 1988|CYNTHIA FLASH | United Press International

SEATTLE — Known for its majestic mountains, its shimmering lakes and its massive evergreen trees, the state of Washington is a haven for nature lovers who love to burn wood in fireplaces and wood stoves.

But what was once enjoyed as the pleasant smell of wood smoke has come to be regarded as a dangerous health problem--a problem the state has tackled by putting into effect the nation's toughest wood burning regulations.

"We hope they (the regulations) will do something down the road to resolve the problem," said Rhonda Ashley, who, like her 13-year-old son, is allergic to smoke and develops a runny nose, a sore throat and stinging watery eyes when exposed to it.

"I would never jog in our neighborhood on a Sunday morning or any time in the evening," the University of Washington microbiology researcher said. "This is supposed to be one of the most beautiful areas of Seattle, but (the smog) rivals the worst of Los Angeles. We can't walk up hills without huffing and puffing."

Widespread Bans

The regulations put into effect Friday provide for widespread bans on burning wood if the air becomes too polluted because of stagnant weather conditions.

The new rules:

--Require catalytic stoves sold in the state after July to be certified to have an average emission rate of less than 4 grams of particulate per hour and conventional stoves may not emit more than 9 grams per hour. Non-certified stoves generally emit 30 grams per hour of particulate, tiny particles that are not burned.

--Prohibit burning of garbage, plastics, rubber, paints, waste petroleum products, painted or treated wood, including utility poles, railroad ties, plywood and pressboard.

--Ban all stove and fireplace wood burning on days when air quality has deteriorated to a "pollution episode" stage.

--Provide for up to a $1,000 fine for violations.

Oregon and Colorado have statewide regulations, but do not ban wood fires altogether. The only stricter regulations are found in individual cities, like Juneau, Alaska; Missoula, Mont., and Boise, Ida., said Ron Holcomb, spokesman for the state Ecology Department, which oversees the regulations.

Only those who use wood stoves as their sole source of heat are exempt from the stringent new rules, which, under normal conditions, will have the effect of banning stove and fireplace fires from eight to 30 days each year.

Janet Chalupnik, environmental health director of the American Lung Assn. in Washington state, said the wood smoke in the air over the state contains hazardous materials and carcinogens that are especially harmful for people with heart disease, and they cause upper respiratory irritation and headaches.

"People want us to do something about this terrible problem," she said, adding that she receives more complaints about wood smoke pollution than any other problem.

A New Problem

Wood pollution is a fairly new problem that came to light after the energy crisis of the 1970s, Chalupnik said.

"We didn't really catch on until a lot of people started burning wood," she said. "Neighbors started calling up saying they have lung disease and telling about other neighbors' wood burning. Others called saying they can't jog because the neighborhood is so full of wood smoke in the morning and at night."

About 1 million households burn wood in Washington state and residential wood combustion in 1984 emitted 65,000 tons of particulate and 400,000 tons of carbon monoxide.

A study conducted in 1982 and 1984 by Dr. Richard Honicky of Michigan State University found that preschool children in the wood burning homes have a much greater incidence of moderate to severe respiratory symptoms than children from homes heated by other means, Chalupnik said.

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