Among car exhaust, factory fumes and coal-fired power plants, there is one source of air pollution that Connecticut residents know little about: emissions from residential wood smoke.

Earlier this month, The American Lung Association of the Northeast, the Sierra Club of Connecticut and Environment and Human Health, Inc. submitted a legal petition to the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) asking that the department set up regulatory standards for residential wood smoke emissions. These emissions come from residential outdoor wood furnaces — sheds connecting to a house that burn wood for purposes of heating — that have been shown to emit dangerous quantities of toxic particles.

“We call it the new secondhand smoke,” said Nancy Alderman, president of Environment and Human Health, Inc.

While wood smoke emissions have many of the same components as highly regulated cigarette smoke, wood smoke is almost totally unregulated, both federally and in Connecticut, Alderman said.

The petition is not a petition in the traditional sense, but rather a legal petition that only the three groups have signed. It requests that Connecticut adopt the same wood smoke regulations that the state of Washington put in place around 10 years ago. Under state law, DEEP has 30 days to respond to the petition.

A spokesman for DEEP did not respond to a request for comment.

The type of outdoor wood-burning furnaces that produce these emissions have already been banned in 18 towns across the state, including Hamden and North Haven. The DEEP website currently features a map that catalogs all the complaints from people who were harmed by neighbors’ wood smoke in Connecticut since the year 2005.

“The primary problem is that wood smoke emissions produce damage to the lungs, particularly of children. They contain chemicals that cause cancer,” said David Brown, a public health toxicologist with Environment and Human Health, Inc.

Wood smoke emissions do not travel very far in the air, but are rather a type of point source pollution, which means they are detrimental in immediately surrounding areas, according to Martin Mador YC ’71 FES ’02, legislative and political chair for the Connecticut Chapter of the Sierra Club. Mador said that wood smoke emissions are not only a problem in Connecticut, but across the country. If the state adopts these regulations, it will join the handful of other states across the nation that regulate wood smoke emissions.

While New Haven does not typically have problems with pollution caused by wood smoke emissions — wood-burning furnaces are usually installed in rural areas — it still may affect the city indirectly. In 2012 the state of Connecticut’s asthma identified New Haven as having the highest rate of asthma-related hospitalizations in the state.

“Even if wood smoke is a relatively minor source of air pollution in our city, we should keep in mind that it is being added ‘on top of’ these other existing sources of pollution, and therefore may be a contributor to the much greater rates of asthma we see in parts of our city,” Mark

Abraham, executive director of Data Haven, said in an email.

According to Brown, the issue has been brought to the state legislature’s attention numerous times over the years, yet no regulatory standards have been created. The pushback has come from both homeowners who are reluctant to adjust their stoves to new regulations and political lobbies which have a stake in the wood stove industry, Brown said.

“[The wood stove industry’s] argument has generally been that it’s a cheaper way to burn heat for your house, and the new devices are much cleaner than the older devices,” Brown said. “I think part of the issues is also people saying ‘I can do anything in my yard that I want to do.’”

For now, Alderman said, the groups who submitted the petition will wait and see if the DEEP has any objections.

In 2005, DEEP released a fact sheet that officially stated that emissions from outdoor wood furnaces are harmful to human health.

  • nalderman3

    This article is perfectly accurate – however, the headline in incorrect. The legal Petition sent to the CT DEEP asks the DEEP to REGULATE wood smoke emissions – not ban them. Lillian Childress has written an excellent article and describes the situation perfectly – whoever wrote the headline – got it wrong.

    The headline should have read: Petition would regulate wood smoke

    Nancy Alderman, President
    Environment ans Human Health, Inc.

  • nalderman3

    Lillian Childress has written a very good article and has correctly gotten all the facts in the article. Whoever wrote the headline got that wrong. The legal petition asks the CT DEEP to REGULATE wood smoke — not to ban wood smoke — as the headline says.
    Nancy Alderman, President
    Environment and Human Health, Inc.

    • Smokey Wind

      The problem with what you suggest is it’s not feasible,
      although maybe in a less than perfect world.

      Our family has been living/ or slowly dying from this cancer causing carcinogenic smoke
      for the past five years.

      The NY State DEC, EPA, Nassau County Dept. of Health, New York State Dept. of Health, New York State Dept. of State Board of Review, Town of Hempstead Code Enforcement, to name a few have not stopped this terrible condition.

      Legally this smoke trespasses and covets our property at ground level. Do you think there is anyone here or anywhere to enforce the law?
      I have several video’s on my “Smokey Wind” You tube channel depicting 30 minutes to over one hour of start up
      combustion of which the EPA law only allows 6 minutes per every hour.

      You see the problem is, if no one is doing their job, no matter how many laws and regulations are created, they’re only as good as their enforcement.
      Everyone agency points the finger at the other agencies claiming that its that other agency’s responsibility.

      It’s a vicious, useless, non-stop, merry-go round to nowhere,
      while our families health and enjoyment of property is no longer.


  • papertigah

    Woodsmoke, like second hand cigarette smoke is only supported by rough epidemiology science and the invented particulate matter miasma – comparisons, hypothesis weighted suggestions and hyped up links. It is not well supported by true scientific method through toxicology. In fact the toxicology (real science) that has been done has all been inconclusive so far. It’s begging for government funding, it’s a waste of money if they are just going to spend it all on anticompetive fuels sponsored epidemiology spin doctoring and not going to science. Epidemiology has been overused and abused and should never alone be used to justify policy. Scientific method allows for transparency where the same conclusions can be made over and over. Hiding data, and trying to convince us of experts is childish, when all that is being created out of sponsored university programmes is energy and health imperialist energy policy propaganda.

  • Smokey Wind

    I created a You Tube Channel called ” Smokey Wind” just to show the terrible cancer causing toxic Wood Smoke our family is being forced to breathe in. Wood burning appliances such as wood burning stoves are being use to heat entire homes. We have health issues and concerns and cannot go outside and use our yard, driveway or garage because the smoke and fumes blanket our property. When the smoke covets a neighbors property it doesn’t matter if it comes from a wood boiler of wood stove because smoke is smoke and they both exhaust the same kind; Toxic, Particulate Filled, Cancer Causing, Smoke and Fumes that constrict your blood Vessels and Arteries. “IT’S ALL BAD.” and I worry about our family.

  • Guillaume

    We also struggle in France with woodsmoke (no regulation at all), we feel very lonely. Most of the French don’t take the problem seriously because “woodsmoke is natural/traditional, so it’s good”. You would really help us by showing that many people around the world struggle with that issue. Please add a comment in your langage on this video (subtitle) that would say for instance “I’m living in XXX and support a wood burning regulation, because wood smoke are dangerous”.

    Why should we regulate wood fire?