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Mandating cleaner woodstoves

For residents of the north country, the problem is easy to see the moment the heating season arrives. Smoke from woodstoves sullies the air and clings to the ground during temperature inversions, a situation made worse when unseasoned logs are tossed on the fire.

The resulting mix — toxic air pollution, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and soot (i.e. particle pollution) — can bring on a range of health problems, from debilitating bouts of asthma to heart attacks. In some areas, smoke from residential woodstoves makes up a significant portion of fine-particulate emissions, according to the Environmental Protection Agency.

Now the EPA is doing something about it. This month, the agency announced that is proposing stricter pollution standards for new woodstoves and wood heaters, beginning in 2015. The new regulations would make the next generation of these products 80 percent cleaner than those manufactured today.

The proposal covers a variety of wood-fired heaters, including woodstoves, fireplace inserts, indoor and outdoor wood boilers, forced-air furnaces and masonry heaters. The EPA said many residential wood heaters already meet the first set of proposed standards, which would be phased in over five years to allow manufacturers time to adapt. The proposal does not cover fireplaces, fire pits, pizza ovens, barbecues and chimineas.

The EPA estimates that for every dollar spent to comply with the stricter standards, the American public will save between $118 and $267 in health care costs. Combined with efficiency gains, the proposal is expected to save $1.8 billion to $2.4 billion annually.

The agency will take comments on the proposal for 90 days after it is published in the Federal Register. A public hearing is scheduled for Feb. 26 in Boston. For more information, click here.