The Republican

Editorial ~ Friday, June 22, 2007

Wood-burning boilers aren't good neighbors

Western Massachusetts
Belchertown was named in honor of Jonathan Belcher, colonial governor of Massachusetts.
We point this out just in case some had thought that the name might be fittingly contemporary, chosen for the wood-burning smoke belchers with which some residents have been heating their homes. And soiling the air around them.

The Belchertown Board of Health is scheduled to vote next month on new regulations regarding the placement of wood boilers. The town has already taken a reasonable position on the shed-sized nuisances, and the Board of Health is simply looking to further refine the rules so that one person's heat source isn't his neighbor's nightmare.

Other Western Massachusetts communities have wisely imposed bans or moratoriums on the installation and use of wood-burning boilers, which were originally used to heat farmhouses in the middle of nowhere. In such an environment, they make good sense. With lots of trees to provide fuel for the furnace, and no nearby neighbors forced to breathe the smoke, a wood boiler adds up.

But in a subdivision or an even more urban setting, a wood-burning boiler, which can produce 12 times the smoke of a typical wood stove, adds up to trouble. It is not only a nuisance, but also a serious public health hazard.

Many municipalities have been doing the right thing. While we wouldn't relish taking away their authority to regulate wood burners, it would make sense for state officials to take a look at possible statewide regulations. After all, the smoke from a boiler in Belchertown near the Amherst town line does not recognize or respect that border.

At present, the Environmental Protection Agency is considering regulations that would apply to wood-burning boilers in cities and towns all across the nation. But such rules changes may be a long way in the future. And while federal rulemakers are hammering out new regulations, another heating season is just a few months away. While it's difficult to remember that now, as the heat of the summer is just beginning, someone will doubtless be firing up his wood-belching boiler on some cool September evening. And a neighbor downwind will not be pleased. Or healthy.

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