The Journal News
Rockland County, NY Bans Wood Boilers
(Original publication: April 20, 2006) By Jane Lerner
RAMAPO - Rockland became one of the first municipalities in the state to regulate the use of outdoor wood furnaces yesterday when the Board of Health approved an amendment that all but bans the devices.
"This action is in the best interest of public health," said Commissioner of Health Dr. Joan Facelle after the board voted on the amendment to the county sanitary code.
The amendment bans the use of outdoor wood furnaces that have a firebox volume of 5 cubic feet or larger. Just about all models of the devices have a firebox larger than that.
County officials are unsure how many people in Rockland use the devices. But they say they feared use of outdoor wood burners - and the air pollution they create - would increase as the cost of home heating oil continues to rise.
During six months of debate on the issue, the board heard strong arguments both for and against regulating the furnaces.
The device, also known as an outdoor wood boiler, consists of a small shed that contains an oversize box in which unsplit logs up to 5 feet long are burned. The burning wood heats water in a reservoir around the box. The heated water is pumped through insulated underground pipes to the home, where it circulates through the heating system.
Proponents said the device was an economical heat source that should be available to people, especially as the price of heating oil soars. But opponents insisted that the furnace gives off a tremendous amount of smoke that contributes to air pollution, especially in densely populated areas like Rockland.
Peter Muller of Stony Point has an outdoor wood furnace at his home and told the board during several public hearings that it produces little smoke and heats his home efficiently.
Muller, who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said he didn't think the board investigated the issue enough before making a decision.
"Everyone tells us to lessen our dependence on foreign oil," Muller said. "Wood burning is a renewable source of energy that is more efficient than you can imagine."
Muller, a landscaper, doesn't have to buy wood. He has been able to heat his entire house with the outdoor furnace. His heating bills, which included the cost of running his cooking stove and gas-powered dryer, averaged about $13 a month during the winter, he said.
Muller said he spent nearly $17,000 on his wood furnace three years ago. He plans to apply for a waiver from the county to continue operating it.
Others told the board they supported a ban.
Lawrence McGill of New City wrote a letter to the board urging members to outlaw the devices. He said yesterday that he was glad the board took the action.
"They sound like a real menace to me," said McGill, who did not attend the meeting. "We already have far too much smoke in the air around here."
Miriam McElroy of West Haverstraw said she has to close her windows when neighbors burn wood in an indoor fireplace.
McElroy, who did not attend yesterday's meeting, said she was relieved by the county's action.
"We don't need these outdoor wood burners," she said. "We certainly don't need more pollution."
Rockland officials are unsure how many people in the county currently use the devices.
The Board of Health began debating a ban in November after a New City woman applied for permission from the town of Clarkstown to install an outdoor wood furnace at her home. The town denied the request but suggested that the county address the issue through its sanitary code.
Attorney General Eliot Spitzer also is trying to limit their use because of the pollution they create.
He and officials from seven other states - including the attorneys general of Connecticut and New Jersey - sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency in August asking the federal agency to "regulate emissions from outdoor wood boilers in order to protect health and the environment."
An assemblywoman from the Binghamton area has introduced a bill that would create state regulations for outdoor wood burners because of the smoke and pollution they create.
Assemblywoman Donna A. Lupardo, D-Endwell, wants to prohibit the use of outdoor boilers in the summer. She also wants to restrict use of the devices within 200 feet of a residence and 700 feet of a hospital, school, day-care center, nursing home, park or recreational facility.
The proposal is pending.
The federal EPA is considering emission standards for such devices.
The new Rockland amendment states that people cannot operate an outdoor wood furnace with a firebox of more than five cubic feet until guidelines and standards are set by the state Department of Environmental Conservation and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. The measure must be submitted to the state for approval, which is expected to take about a month.
Currently, there are no state or federal standards for the devices.
"This allows for the possibility in the future to consider it if there are standards that we can measure," Facelle said.
The Rockland Board of Health will consider granting waivers to anyone who already has an outdoor wood boiler. For more information, call the department at 845-364-2608.
Board of Health fines
Board of Health fines
In other action at yesterday's Board of Health meeting, the board assessed fines on businesses and individuals who violated the county's sanitary code.
o Hopkins Pub Ltd., doing business as Mt. Ivy Pub, routes 45 and 202, was fined $1,000 for violating regulations concerning indoor smoking.
o TNP Pizza Corp., operator, Villa Rosa, 275 N. Main St., Spring Valley, was fined $800 for repeatedly leaving food at a potentially hazardous temperature.
o Central Avenue Pizza Corp., operator, Mr. Crispy's Brick Oven Pizza, was fined $600 for storing food at potentially hazardous temperatures.
o Tina Freeman, owner, 33 W. Burda Place, New City, was fined $200 for failure to put a gate around a swimming pool.
o Affordable Community Inc., owner, 52 Bethune Blvd., Spring Valley, was fined $200 for housing code violations.
o Rifka Meitels, owner, 440 Viola Road, Spring Valley, was fined $200 for housing code violations.