Proof of Smoke

Technical questions that one would like posed to experts
(scientists) in fields related to particulate pollution.

Proof of Smoke

Postby freylaw » Wed Apr 23, 2008 5:20 pm

I have a close neighbor who burns wood in an outdoor hot tub that infiltrates my house constantly, in all seasons of the year.

My local Code Enforcement Officer will not take action without "objective" proof of the infiltration.

Is there a reasonably priced device that I could use to measure the pollution?

Or, do I need to hire someone, and if so, who?

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Postby FriendofAir » Wed Apr 23, 2008 5:25 pm

Good questions!

Video is a start and easiest.

Invite the Officer over for a first hand look.

You can rent smoke detection equipment for about $50 to $100 per day.
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Postby MPA » Thu Apr 24, 2008 1:20 am

I would suggest video and or pictures. Check out my pages all of my stuff was recorded using a camera that you can find at any electronics retailer.

One more thing if you're interested? if you get any pictures or video we would be more than happy to add it to our hall of shame here:
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Monitoring and rental equipment.

Postby pm2.5mary » Sat Apr 26, 2008 6:29 pm

We have just purchased a SidePak particulate monitoring instrument. We will be getting up to speed with it shortly and will be able to give more detailed instructions as we become facile with it. The difficulty that we currently have is the calibration of the instrument for wood smoke. Each source has a separate 'fingerprint'. They come from Texas Instruments calibrated to AZ road dust. We now know from Stanford colleagues what the setting is for tobacco smoke. (If anyone knows the wood smoke setting please let us know! It would save us some time!)

Where are you located?

MPA and FriendofAir give excellent suggestions.

At the rate this kind of 'overlooked' recreational pollution is expanding and destroying our health modern citizens need to have particulate monitors as an added feature on their cell phones! It would be perfect, you could get the reading and the elusive smoke pictures at one shot. Our problem lies with the step beyond proof: Air quality needs to be under the jurisdiction of public health departments who care about the health of every citizen and have the teeth to fine offenders commensurate with the long term health damage they are causing.
"Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air. ...we know that when particle levels go up, people die. " (Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, E Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2002)
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Postby cantbreathe » Mon Jun 09, 2008 2:16 pm

Since air monitoring can only tell you what's in the ambient air from any and all sources, we can't use our monitoring data to prove that our neighbors' OWBs are "the" source. It can only imply that they are "a" source when the wind direction coincides with high PM2.5 or other readings.

The only way to prove without doubt using air monitoring is to do stack emission tests from the source and ambient air monitoring on your property using carbon speciation tests to prove that the oak used by your neighbors' is the same oak that's in the wood smoke on your property.

But, only regulatory agencies have the authority to do stack emission tests on your neighbors' property.

So that leaves us with very few options to "prove" smoke trespass onto our property.

The only thing I have is photographic evidence. But, until I got a time-lapse camera to capture the smoke images, I had no idea how much smoke was actually coming on to my property and how often. And, the images I captured got the state regulator's attention.

To date, there is only one outdoor trail camera that offers the time-lapse feature. It's available through Reconyx:

I use the RC55, set to take a photo every minute for 3 hours in the morning and 3 hours in the late afternoon/evening. It even shows blackwhite photos at dusk, which is when the smoke is usually really bad. It's also camoflauged and has antitheft features.

I take the individual time-lapse photos and animate them into a movie to show the duration, concentration and movement of smoke -- sometimes for more than 2 contiguous hours! You may be shocked to see the results. It explains why we can't breathe and are suffering so much.

We will use the photos to show the ongoing, continuous smoke exposure. The photos are currently not accepted for EPA Method 9 visible emissions readings. But even EPA admits problems with their method: It is subjective, can’t be reproducible, results can vary widely between certified readers, relies on human ability to distinguish between slightly and moderately grayer, and relies on humans to differentiate between particulates and steam emissions. EPA is arguing for digital camera standards to measure visible emissions.

However, the photos may be usable in a case using EPA’s Any Credible Evidence (ACE) 62.Fed Reg. 8314 and Compliance Assurance Monitoring (CAM) 62 Fed Reg. 54900 rules established in 1997. The ACE rules are particularly useful for citizen enforcement actions because they allow for evidence other than reference test methods to demonstrate violation of an emissions requirement. This has been upheld in courts in the following case law: Sierra Club v. Public Service Co. of Colorado, 894 F. Supp. 1455 (D.C. Col. 1995), where Sierra Club introduced evidence of 19,000 opacity violations without the reference EPA Method 9 test for opacity. The court found in favor of the Sierra Club.

So, get yourself a time-lapse camera and start collecting evidence. It's all we've got.
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Thank you for the excellent technical info.

Postby pm2.5mary » Mon Jun 09, 2008 6:22 pm

Dear Cantbreathe,

We are looking forward to seeing what you have been going through. (When you are able to share it.)

If the time lapse camera is acceptable, I am all for it.

We appreciate your spelling this all out, it means a lot when the person has actually done all the foot work.

Thanks for the super links.

When do you have a court date?

"Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air. ...we know that when particle levels go up, people die. " (Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, E Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2002)
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Smoke evidence.

Postby Ernest Grolimund » Wed Jul 16, 2008 1:28 pm

Loved reference to EPA rules for any credible evidence! It may save a life. Maine's DEP is experimenting with video cameras from Walmart which are cheap and effective. They used one and got great pictures and showed them to an owb operator. Then, they let them off the hook, and said try burning dry wood. They will be years telling them to try this and that but nobody has been able to modify an old owb to work well according to Nescaum. Pm2.5 is not visible. Also, pm from other sources can add and poluters will argue anything. I've come up against your report of smoke could be caused by water vapor from a stream or fromfog coming out of snow. The government does not want to touch this because they are afraid of court cases.

Here is something that is happening in Maine. I talked to a community health director at a local hospital who is also a health officer. She is going to start a volunteer pm monitoring group and study with her hospitals help and the help of a university. When they get thousands of ambient air violations verified by doctors and college professors, then the DEP will be forced to come up with a plan to alleviate the pollution and the report notes will note the smell of woodsmoke and visible smoke from chimneys being measured. They will then refer to EPA reports that say how much of a states air pollution is coming from wood smoke and call for removal of all old woodburning equipment. The Am Lung is doing that in wood to energy task force meetings and reports and I am trying to keep the heat on them too. The governors task force recognizes in writing that the old stoves and fireplaces are very polluting and they recommend replacement. The Am lung Assoc. and others in the group have recommended $1500 rebates paid for by savings in health costs and economic multipliers. Schwartzes work in another form. $600/yr is saved from energy savings alone. The average stove costs $2,200. Let us hope. Sen Collins proposed a $500 stove rebate but she states that old stoves are polluting. This means I am not alone. A consensus is building. Maine may very well reduce old equipment pollution to make room for more wood smoke pollution albeit very diluted.

Any credible evidence will help an older lady in Maine getting smoked out in Maine. I gave her my Sears Envirosense air cleaner to take pictures of on a video camera. Also, the Maine DEP said they have certified smoke smellers and the sears air cleaner measures odors too. I wish someone would calibrate that $300 Sears air cleaner. But a very unhealthy reading from a high tech opacity meter from a top retailer is creible evidence in my opinion. Scientific delerium madness. Atty Pletten says that medical texts say any smell is bad for health and hence against the law.
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Buy back programs are doomed to failure!

Postby pm2.5mary » Sat Jul 19, 2008 8:22 pm

Did anyone listen to Al Gore's July 17th speech. It is He is not talking biomass or burning!

Nothing is accomplished with buy backs of old wood burning equipment.
See 12 year study under science.

If that money is used on new technology wood burning equipment it is wasted down a dark smoky alley.

These feel good attempts do not solve the health problems of breathing wood smoke. The better they work they give off a bit less of a more carcinogneic smoke. After people pay the high prices they are loath to give them up.

As MPA has already said, poor people are not buying $12,000 gizmos.
"Particulate pollution is the most important contaminant in our air. ...we know that when particle levels go up, people die. " (Joel Schwartz, Ph.D., Harvard School of Public Health, E Magazine, Sept./Oct. 2002)
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Monitoring smoke

Postby Ernest Grolimund » Fri Sep 12, 2008 1:11 pm

Proving smoke infiltration is tough. The DEP is making it tough because they do not want to enforce anything and risk a $270,000 court case. Someone got DEP inspectors to witness the smoke across property lines for the requisite time and the DEP said some of it might be fog from a stream. Dismissed. Not one owb has been shut down 1 year after the owb bill. Now, the DEP says that they will give all owb owners every chance to try whatever they can think of that might eliminate the problem one by one. This could take years and 3 hrs of owb smoke can cause heart attacks and asthma attacks in an inversion. I complained to the Governors office that there was supposed to be emergency power given and this is not emergency intervention. It is trial and error by people who are not engineers with no guarantee of safety. Hence, peoples lives are at risk. Waiting for a return phone call. Doubt I will get it.

Local hospital is not monitoring ambient pm from woodburning. They are monitoring health effects and costs from woodsmoke problems and negative environmental effects reported by patients and doctors.

I have an idea for calibrating monitoring equipment but it is just an idea. Take the uncalibrated monitor to a state pm monitor and watch it for a day and record the results in a log. Then write the state figure next to it from state records.

The state will never pay $1500 to buyback old equipment. It was proposed in the past and rejected for budget reasons. Only a ban is possible. I have proposed it as an emergency measure. I know it is not for cert. stoves too, but it is the only thing possible now and truthfully it is not probable.

The DEP requires maps and cross sections that I got from Google. I did a cross section from google elev's and they dismissed it. Said my observation of smoke could have been fog from a stream . They also require a compass reading for the direction of the smoke and a humidity reading. Did everything by the book except the humidity reading and they dismissed it for that and the possibility of fog from a stream. They will not enforce unless they absolutely have to. It will take a lawyers letter and a doctors letter and video and proof it isn't fog or another stove or whatever they can dream up. I reported this to the legislature and an asthmatic leader who is the speaker of the house or something like that. I keep trying to pass this off to someone more qualified but everyone drops the ball. There is said to be a spiritual reward for people who do this kind of work that is quite valuble, so I keep on with the work. If I find the champion I will let you know.

One thing I have learned is they are afraid of lawyers and they are trying to avoid enforcement costs. But then they introduce laws saying that all old equipment must be bought back. I say ban it to avoid this cost, but I am nobody.

The EPA says try them in the papers but an editor says beware because you may be sued by engineers and boilermakers. After my speech was broadcast on PBS an engineering firm asked the state to sue me for slander or fear mongering or misrepresentation of the facts. Then they misrepresented the truth in their letter. It was as obvious as dividing two numbers. This is what we are up against. Brown was threatened with a suit till Conn said they would defend him for free since he was a state employee when he wrote his report. You have to be careful with these people even if you say the truth they may slap you with a suit they know they will lose just to force you to hire a lawyer and pay big bucks. You have to be brave to speak out. So, I will stick to quiet behind the scenes lobbying.

Personally, I would like to see government recognize the scientific validity of modelling for the ave pm2.5 from owb's, stoves, and fireplaces so you could quickly analyze a situation in an emergency. If an owb was observed by a health officer and it looked bad and smelled bad and there was a report of symptoms then he could measure air speed and predict the ambient pm to be ...... probably 30 mcg, and add 40 mcg for an owb and conclude this is dangerous and shut it down. Give the official quasi judicial power and have a legal conferance to teach judges about air pollution. Ie, do not let them burn because it is usual and common practice from the past. I am arguing it to no effect right now. Champions are needed. Gore, Mitchell, Waxman, Clinton.
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Postby Ernest Grolimund » Sat Sep 13, 2008 11:54 am

Pm Mary: Perhaps you are right about Gore. I hope so. He personally is talking about clean and green and I have never heard him mention wood burning just cellulosic ethanol. But his web site links to REPP which is saying wood combustion is clean because it is carbon nuetral and it meets emissions standards. I hope he is linking to REPP for just the windpower and solar and other truly clean energy. If he could be against coal and oil and gas, then he probably is against dirty wood burning. But I doubt he would be against all of it. I am slowly coming to your viewpoint that all of it is bad but this has been a two year journey for me. I know government officials cannot do the amount of studying you have and you have made me do to get at the truth. CAR has all the info but it is in a preliminary form that true scientists who are doing the theorizing can use and it somehow has to be verified and expanded and driven home to the public. Perhaps CAR can polish it's presentations a little more so that the unscientific people get it. I appreciate all your efforts to do this to date. This website is the best so far.
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Postby Ernest Grolimund » Sat Sep 13, 2008 12:15 pm

Can't breathe: There is one other possible way to prove that a neighbors equipment is polluting. States do modelling for large plants with a computer. Vermont and Maine will do preliminary estimates based on modelling as well for rough guesses and preliminary modelling to see if they are in the ball park. OWB complainers got Maine to model small house sized boilers and Dr. Brown did this too. They made conclusions on safety from the modelling. Perhaps an engineer could make an estimate of pollution without using the expensive modelling software and find it beyond the range of error so that it is obvious that a woodburning situation can be pollting. In Maine the legislature gave the DEP emergency power to shut down OWB's if someone proves an OWB can be a threat to life and health. To me, it sounds like the legislature is on our side and theoretical estimates can be used to shut down a problem boiler. If there is no way to test with monitors, then scientic theoretical proof can be used supplemented with as much science as you can get and human experience too. A doctor for instance can go beyond mere numbers and rely on health tests and patient history and scientific knowledge to say that in his opinion the ...... is a threat to life, health, safety, and welfare. I used this effectively with a lawyers letter stating his opinion and a councilman's witnessing of the smoke and saying it was visable and could be seen and smelled and it was "objectionable". A woodburner replaced old equipment of some kind with a gas stove. It helped. Hope this helps you.
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just a thought

Postby burningflorida » Sun Oct 19, 2008 10:37 pm

I just set up a web site for a weekly log of smoke activity using a still camera but thought that I should install and older security camera that I used to have connected to one of my older Mac computers using software.

I thought I would incorporate a few cameras and a few smoke detectors that would turn on when smoke was found on my property. I could connect the smoke detector to the computer and a LOUD alarm that would notify the residents in the effected area that the smoke was present and have them call the police when they heard the alarm and file a complaint for noise nuisance. I think that a jury would understand that the smoke is a hazard and therefore I was sounding an alarm as a service to the community. Since I already have a complaint verified by the Florida Department Of Environmental Protection I wouldn't need to prove that my equipment was in the effected area. ... php?t=1063
If I force them to bring me to court then the cost is theirs, not mine. ;-)
Smoke detectors are certified by Underwriters Laboratory (UL) and couldn't be contested.
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Postby turning_blue » Mon Oct 20, 2008 8:01 am


We have a genius here! :wink:
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Postby burningflorida » Mon Oct 20, 2008 9:23 am

turning_blue, I wouldn't make that leap but if a guy made the argument with a home made contraption such as I've explained and a jury found that the evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the smoke from the source was verified by the cameras and the level of smoke reach the point to set off the alarm then a contraption such as this could be used, and this case would set a precedence.

From my observations what seems to missing is a monitoring device, such as a smoke detector, that is as acceptable to the fire department as the devices that monitor indoor fire safety. Most people are aware of the fact that smoke, more often than flames are the number one killer of human life in fires. Now, all we need to do is to demonstrate how wood smoke is just an extension of that known fact. We need to bridge the gap between what the public understands presently, and what we understand from observation and analysis. 8)
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Postby Wilberforce » Mon Oct 20, 2008 11:16 am

A good experiment would be to measure the minimum threshold level of smoke needed
to set off a typical home smoke alarm. I think that setting is made rather high, in order
to exclude minor 'kitchen events' but low enough to give plenty of warning in the event
of an actual house fire.

I can do that test with my particle counter. I wonder if Consumer Reports Magazine has
ever tested the effectiveness of home smoke alarms? And what are the industry standards?
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