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Effort to Clear Smoke from Wood Burning Heat in Indiana

The Outdoor Wood Boiler Replacement Program could help to clear the air in Indiana. Credit: Michael Hoy/Flickr
The Outdoor Wood Boiler Replacement Program could help to clear the air in Indiana. Credit: Michael Hoy/Flickr
October 19, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS – A new grant opportunity is expected to clean up some of Indiana's smoky communities.

A $500,000 dollar grant from the Outdoor Wood Boiler Replacement Program will fund the replacement of outdoor wood boilers, or OWBs, with solar, geothermal or combination systems.

There are about 8,000 outdoor wood boilers in Indiana, which Jesse Kharbanda, executive director of the Hoosier Environmental Council, says can have a negative impact on public health.

"Some of these OWBs are poorly constructed or poorly operated, and they result in real suffering for people who live in proximity to them in terms of asthma, or respiratory illness, or possibly barricading themselves in their homes to avoid the smoke," he states.

Kharbanda says it would take the equivalent of 8,000 natural gas furnaces to have the same particulate emissions as one outdoor wood boiler.

Up to 100 percent of the costs associated with the switch to the renewable systems will be covered for Indiana homeowners selected for the grant.

The Environmental Protection Agency ranks Indiana highest nationally for emissions from residential wood burning. And while the program will not be able to swap out all of the OWBs in the state, Samantha Coad environmental programs director of the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest, says plans are to replace some of the dirtiest.

"We're hoping that the reduction in the smoke from taking away these wood boilers will help people to breathe a lot easier without having to worry about how much pollution they're inhaling in their own home," she explains.

Indiana's law on outdoor wood boilers includes regulations on emissions for new OWBs, fuel use, and height requirements.

But Kharbanda notes that even if an outdoor wood boiler is in compliance, it doesn't guarantee that an individual is protected.

"They need to be of a certain height, and a certain distance to another property,” he points out. “But if someone is susceptible to asthma, or is a child, or someone who is elderly, all of these kind of vulnerable populations could still well be hurting from their exposure to outdoor wood boiler smoke."

The program is a partnership that includes the American Lung Association, the Hoosier Environmental Council and other public interest groups.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN