Air pollution is one of the biggest risks to human health that we face today. Breathing polluted air has long-lasting impacts such as asthma, heart attacks, and even premature death. Air pollution is a particular concern in Washington State, where eight communities have violated national air quality standards in the last decade, affecting more than 50 percent of the state’s seven million residents.
Wood burned for home heating is one of the major sources of air pollution in Washington. Winter weather conditions in much of the state often lead to stagnant air that keeps wood smoke low to the ground.
Woodstoves, fireplaces, and other wood-burning devices put out hundreds of times more air pollution than other sources of heat such as natural gas or electricity. The fine particles in wood smoke contain toxic chemicals that can cause serious problems such as scarring of the lung tissue. Wood smoke is most dangerous to the health of infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with lung or heart disease.
To address this threat to human health, the Washington Department of Ecology (Ecology) partnered with six local clean air agencies on buyback programs for inefficient woodstoves, and on an education and outreach program aimed at improving best practices for wood burning.
The woodstove buyback program uses grants to find and replace old stoves in low-income, high wood-use households. Ecology and its local air agency partners work in many high-risk communities around the state to replace older, uncertified stoves with new, EPA-certified stoves, or to help residents switch to gas or electric heat. Old stoves collected through the program are scrapped and the metal recycled.
Ecology also coordinated with local air agencies to implement wood smoke reduction programs – providing education for wood stove owners on proper fuel use, fuel loading, moisture content, and other best practices for wood-burning devices.
Results to Date:
- In 2013-15, Ecology awarded $4 million dollars in grant money to seven Washington communities at risk of violating national air pollution standards for fine particles.
- 3,575 uncertified wood stoves were replaced in 2013-2015
- As of March 2015, 100 percent of Washington met federal air quality standards.
Camille St. Onge
Communication Manager, Air Quality Program
Washington Department of Ecology