When you think of air pollution, what might readily come to mind are coal-fired power plants, factories with large smokestacks, or idling 18-wheelers. Or you might picture the pollutants in your home: strong-smelling cleaning products, woodwork, paint, and carpeting. But there’s another source of air pollution that is of serious concern to many Hoosiers, a culprit that few are aware of: wood smoke from outdoor wood boilers. OWBs can emit soot at levels 1,000 times higher than natural gas furnaces!
More than 8,000 OWBs are generating heat in Indiana, primarily installed by home residents in an effort to save on heating costs and, for some, to supply their fuel from within Indiana. On the surface, OWBs may look innocuous—small metal sheds with smokestacks 8 to 10 feet above ground level. Unfortunately, these devices emit a number of pollutants, including carbon monoxide and air toxics such as formaldehyde and benzene, according to the Indiana Department of Environmental Management.
Disturbingly, many OWBs are near neighboring homes and schools. And University of Washington researchers have concluded that 50 to 70 percent of people made ill by smoke from these OWBs have nothing to do with the smoke’s generation. Toxicologists list innumerable signs of suffering from OWBs: coughing, headaches, inability to catch breath, continual sore throats, bronchitis, and asthma attacks. Emerging research indicates that sustained exposure to OWBs can increase the risks of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), carbon monoxide poisoning, and cancer.
The Indiana government, spurred by the tireless efforts of harmed citizens and state and regional public interest organizations, has finally begun taking action. By the time this editorial goes to press, the Indiana Air Pollution Control Board will likely have adopted policies that restrict the type of OWBs that are permissible in the future, and will also place restrictions on when OWBs can be used, and how far their smokestacks are from the ground.
While these regulations will be a step in the right direction, children, the elderly, and people with respiratory illnesses may suffer well into the future from the smoke from OWBs. Indiana’s new policy will likely trail national best practices for dealing with OWBs. A longer-term solution for Indiana—and the rest of the nation—is to enact policies that make non-polluting energy technologies such as solar thermal cost-competitive with technologies that should have been left to our past. HEC and our partners will continue to advocate for strong protections for our air quality, and for an energy future much healthier for Hoosiers.
To get involved in our efforts, write us at firstname.lastname@example.org, using the subject header Air and Energy, or join the conversation at www.facebook.com/hecweb.