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The Planning and Zoning Commission is considering banning outdoor wood furnaces, and plan to take up the matter Monday night.
The state Department of Environmental Protection is looking into the risks associated with wood furnaces, even though the state Senate Environment Committee squashed a bill that would have barred the furnaces last month. In Cheshire, the PZC is considering halting the construction of any new wood furnaces while allowing ones already built to continue operation.
Nancy Alderman, president of the North Haven environmental group, Environment and Human Health, Inc., supports the idea of banning the outdoor furnaces for a variety of reasons. She stated that these units should not be confused with indoor wood burning stoves, which are certified by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. The outdoor furnaces, which burn wood that heats water and a home by traveling through underground piping, are more toxic than traditional indoor wood burning stoves, Alderman said.
"Each outdoor wood furnace emits wood smoke equivalent to 22 indoor wood stoves and they emit their smoke 24 hours a day, seven days a week," Alderman explained. "Their smoke plume can travel up to half a mile, causing neighboring houses to fill with smoke and cause illness among neighboring families."
The Planning and Zoning Commission originally seemed prepared to vote on the regulation this past Monday but, at the last minute, a manufacturer of outdoor wood furnaces submitted information that contradicts what Alderman and the DEP claim. Not wanting to rush the vote, the PZC decided that it would review the information over the next two weeks before closing the hearing. Members of the Commission have declined to comment, as the public hearing remains open.
The state Department of Environmental Protection has a fact sheet about outdoor wood furnaces (OWF), which was revised in 2005, that lists them "harmful to the environment and human health."
"Yes, OWFs produce a lot of thick smoke, which in addition to being a nuisance to neighbors has serious health and air pollution impacts," the report reads. "Smoke from OWFs contains unhealthy amounts of particulate matter, dioxin, carbon monoxide, nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde and other toxic air pollutants."
Alderman also fears that, since the furnaces are concealed within a shed, owners could be burning items other than wood, such as trash, yard waste, and tires. Across the nation, the debate on wood burning furnaces rages on, with only Washington instituting a state-wide ban on the appliances. In Connecticut, nine communities have outlawed outdoor wood furnaces, and Alderman hopes Cheshire makes it 10.
While other smoke rises into the air and dissipates rapidly, smoke from a wood burning furnace lingers, Alderman claimed.
"Because of their basic design, it is possible that the furnaces can never be made safe," Alderman stated. "Their emissions problems are complicated by the fact they cycle between oxygen-deficient and oxygen-rich burning. The smoke that leaves the stack, irrespective of height, lacks the heat necessary for it to rise or to be diffused. The smoke falls to the ground."
The Planning and Zoning Commission meets next Monday, May 10, at 7:30 p.m. in Town Hall.