Wood stove and fireplace restrictions announced due to air quality concerns – indoor burn ban effective immediately

by Bruce A. Smith 

An air quality burn ban has been announced for Pierce County by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency (PSCAA), officials announced today.  The ban is effective immediately and forbids the use of open fireplaces or uncertified wood stoves.

 In addition, any certified wood stove that is being used improperly is subject to a fine or penalty.

 Amy Warren, communications specialist for the PSCAA, told the Mountain News that a rule of thumb standard to use is that a certified wood stove burning dry, seasoned wood should not have any smoke pouring out of the chimney after a short start-up period.

 “After twenty minutes you shouldn’t see any smoke coming out of the chimney– only heat waves,” Ms. Warren said.

 Ms. Warren said there are two kinds of burn bans: the common one in the summer time that is initiated by county fire marshals due to fire safety issues with local prairies and woodlands, and the second type is the burn ban being issued today, namely protecting public health from dirty air, especially smoke from wood stoves.

 “We monitor air quality very rigorously, and we’re seeing a weather pattern development that will seriously impact air quality over the next few days.”

 Warren said that the expected poor air quality will effect children and the elderly, and will be especially difficult for those with lung and cardiac conditions, such as asthma and chemical sensitivities.

 Surprisingly, these days are forecasted to be sunny, Warren acknowledged, however, the problem is that the nights will have little or no wind.

 “Without the wind, we won’t be able to remove the air pollution that builds up during the day,” Warren said.

 Authorized wood stoves have federal EPA certification labels affixed on the rear of the unit.  Strict standards were implemented in 1988 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and were further enforced by tougher standards imposed by the State of Washington in 1995.

 In general, certified stoves have some built-in mechanism to reduce smoke, usually a solid metal plate at the top of the wood box that initiates a second burn of the wood smoke before it enters the chimney or stove pipe and is released into the atmosphere.

 “Not only does this reduce air pollution, it also increases the efficiency of the wood stove,” Ms. Warren said.

 A second “rule of thumb” to ascertain whether a wood stove is certified is the presence of a solid metal door – if a wood stove has one, it’s probably not certified, Warren said.

 “Most manufacturers built their wood stoves with glass windows once the new standards were adopted in 1988,” Ms. Warren said.

 She also said that there is no way to retro-fit an old, uncertified wood stove.

 For wood stove inserts, Warren said the certification tags might be located under decorative trim, and if not there, they would be on the back of the stove.

 Another way to determine if a stove is certified: take a picture of the unit – a knowledgeable salesperson at a hearth store should recognize whether it is certified or not, Warren said. 

 In addition, the Washington state Department of Ecology keeps a manufacturers’ list of all certified makes and models of wood stoves.

 “They will be able to tell you if your stove is certified,” she said.

Ms. Warren also sent the Mountain News the following link to the DOE list:


 Nevertheless, if the weather continues to be problematic the burn ban, now a Stage 1, will be elevated to a Stage 2 burn ban, which will forbid the use of even certified woods stoves unless it is the only means of delivering “significant” heat to a residence.

 Warren also encourages residents to use proper wood-burning techniques – such as not damping down a fire when everyone goes to bed.

 “Instead of choking off the fire at night, which produces a lot of pollution…we find that ‘compressed energy logs’ will burn efficiently through the night and still have embers in the morning.”

 Although smoke from wood stoves is the single largest source of air pollution in our area, Ms. Warren also said there are many other air pollution sources that residents need to consider, such as observing outdoor burning prohibitions.  She said that the burring of debris is illegal at any time of the year in all urban areas of Pierce County. 

Also, land clearing and slash burns in southern Pierce County always require a permit, and the burning of trash is always forbidden.

 In addition, the exhaust from diesel pick-up trucks and large rigs continue to be an enormous source of serious health issues, with 80% of all carcinogens in our air coming from diesel engines.

 Diesel exhaust is so serious, in fact, that Harborview Hospital has a special cardiac clinic for those patients whose illness is triggered by these noxious fumes.

 Further, Washington state standards for workmen’s compensation regulations specifically allow compensation for chronic exposure to diesel exhaust, especially for cancers of digestive organs and the kidney and bladder.

 As a result, local fire departments spend enormous amounts of money to capture diesel exhausts from idling engines in fire stations, and many also install special equipment on fire trucks and other emergency equipment to retain diesel exhaust and pump it into pressurized holding tanks.

 “The toxicity of diesel exhaust is quite significant,” said Warren.  “It’s nasty stuff.”

 Warren added that diesel exhaust contains “ultra-fine” particulate matter that can absorb many different kinds of toxic chemicals and deliver it deeply into the lungs.

 Below is the official Burn Ban press release from Pierce County, along with contacts more information:

 Stage 1 burn ban called for Pierce and Snohomish Counties today

 The use of fireplaces and uncertified wood stoves is prohibited until air quality improves

 [Forwarded in the community interest by the Department of Communications]

 Due to forecasted stagnant weather conditions and rising air pollution levels, the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is issuing a Stage 1 burn ban for Pierce and Snohomish counties, effective at 5 p.m.today, November 30, 2011.  This ban is in effect until further notice.

 A large ridge of high pressure off the Pacific Coast is expected to bring cold evenings and poor ventilation to the Pacific Northwest for the next several days.  Pollution levels are expected to rise throughout the Puget Sound region, but especially in Pierce and Snohomish communities where residential wood-burning is common.  Air pollution levels in these areas could reach “unhealthy for sensitive groups.” 

 “Smoke from fireplaces and wood stoves is the single largest source of air pollution in our neighborhoods in the wintertime — and this pollution can build up quickly when it’s cold and not very windy,” said Craig Kenworthy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

 “Breathing this smoke causes major medical problems in vulnerable groups like children and the elderly.  Please help them by avoiding burning when our air quality is poor or deteriorating.”

 For burn ban FAQ’s, visit: http://www.pscleanair.org/airq/burnban/faqs.aspx.

 How can one tell if their wood stove is certified, and OK to use during a Stage 1 burn ban?  

 Age matters – if the stove is over 20 years old, it is likely uncertified and prohibited for use during a burn ban.  Uncertified wood stoves are no longer legal to sell or purchase in the State ofWashingtondue to the significant pollution they generate.  A certified stove will have an EPA label on the back:



November 30, 2011


Editor’s Note:  In addition, Ms. Warren sent the Mountain News the following scientific report showing the dangers of wood smoke and diesel exhaust.

Study: Wood Smoke a Leading Health Concern in Tacoma

Diesel Exhaust and Smoke from Residential Fires Linked to Higher Cancer Risk


 MARCH 3, 2011–A new report released today by the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency highlights the harmful pollutants associated with wood smoke, particularly in Tacoma residential areas.

Through a study funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency and the University of Washington measured the concentrations of toxic air pollutants in Tacoma and Seattle and identified the chief contributors.  Exhaust from diesel engines continues to be the leading source of toxic pollution, (Emphasis added, Ed.) with substantial contribution from fireplaces and wood stoves in residential areas.  The Clean Air Agency protects the health of the 3.5 million residents of Pierce, King, Kitsap, and Snohomish counties.

Air toxics are pollutants known or suspected to cause serious health problems, such as cancer, heart disease, lung damage, and nerve damage.

“Washingtonians young and old miss hundreds of work and schools days each year due to the pollution from diesel exhaust and wood burning,” said Craig Kenworthy, Executive Director of the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.  “We need to work on ways to heat our homes and move our goods without putting our health at risk.”

“A few decades ago, protecting the air in the Puget Sound region hinged on managing factories and industrial sources of pollution,” continued Kenworthy.  “Today, clean air depends more on the individual choices every one of us makes every day.”

As part of the study, the Clean Air Agency sampled for over 100 different air pollutants in Seattle and Tacomaf rom 2008-2009.

Key findings of the study include:

  • Pollution from wood smoke (from residential fireplaces and woodstoves) contributes a higher proportion of potential cancer risk in residential neighborhoods in Tacoma than at other Puget Sound areas. Additionally, concentrations of air toxics linked to wood smoke measured much higher in residential areas of Tacoma than in many other national sites.
  • Nine pollutants were measured at levels of concern for public health.
  • Emissions from transportation (cars, trucks, ships, etc.) contribute the most to the health risk from air toxics.
  • Emissions from diesel engines in particular contribute the most to potential cancer risk in the Puget Sound area, representing over 70 percent of the potential cancer risk from air toxics at the Seattle sites and over 40 percent at the Tacoma residential sites. 

“We are concerned by the disproportionate impact of wood smoke in our Tacoma neighborhoods,” said Kenworthy. “We hope more residents of Pierce County will take advantage of our wood smoke reduction program, which offers money to replace old, polluting wood stoves with electric, natural gas, or propane heating alternatives.”

“While we are making strides toward cleaner air, it is clear from this report that we still have a lot of work to do,” said Kenworthy. “Our shirt sleeves are up and through our innovative Diesel Solutions and wood smoke reduction programs, we’re going to continue targeting the causes of the most dangerous air pollution in our region.”

Related Resources:

The Puget Sound Clean Air Agency is an air quality management agency serving King, Kitsap, Pierce and Snohomish counties. Created as a result of the 1967 Washington Clean Air Act, the agency protects public health and improves air quality by adopting and enforcing air quality regulations, educating individuals and businesses about clean-air choices and sponsoring voluntary initiatives to improve air quality.

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3 Responses to Wood stove and fireplace restrictions announced due to air quality concerns – indoor burn ban effective immediately

  1. Nancy Mays says:

    I know I have lived in Nirvana for too long (Eatonville) but I was just blown away last summer finding myself in an urban area of Seattle (upscale if I’m forced to concede) and seeing that the house across the street had a garage just piled high with fire wood. Not only was I concerned about the fire risk to the home, I had no idea that Seattle still allowed folks to burn wood as a source of heat. People here in Eatonville still burn wood illegally and I, havingh allergies and asthma, suffer. But probably not to the extent I would in Seattle. Too many people crammed together just can’t keep putting all that crap in the air!
    Thanks for letting me spout. And pardon the pun…

  2. Rachel says:

    Nowadays the government tries to control everything so why not the stove and home fireplace manufacturers ? At present central Europe has the strictest legislation on fireplace emissions and future regulations are expected to cover the whole EU. I know, some EU regulations are ridiculous, but in this case Europe can serve as a good example.

    • brucesmith49 says:

      I am not eager for governmental regulations, but in the case of wood stoves and vehicles emissions I need the government to be vigilant. There are days – and nights – that I can not go outside due to the wood smoke from my neighbors, and when I’m on the road I have to carry a dual-stage respirator to breathe due to the diesel fumes. For me, it is a question of breathing.

      I am gratified to read that others appreciate what I’m dealing with, as they have similar issues.

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