Air quality 

Woodstove woes

Temps in Missoula dropped well below freezing this week, prompting homeowners to crank up the heat. But for some solid-fuel users, increased energy efficiency just isn't an option.

Owners of wood-burning stoves grandfathered into Missoula County's Air Stagnation Zone will spend another winter belching high levels of particulate into the air. Woodstoves installed before regulation changes in the mid-'90s are exempt from a woodstove ban in the city's airshed, but cannot be swapped for newer stoves that burn more efficiently.

The local law leaves Guy Hanson, owner of stove outlet Axmen, frustrated. Breakthroughs in wood-burning technology in the past two decades have led to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency-certified woodstoves that release particulates at

or below the Missoula City/County Health Department's standards.

Hanson and renewable energy proponents tried to get the health department to review the ban this summer when other air quality regulations were under review, but to no avail. The county's Air Quality Advisory Council could pick up the discussion in coming months.

Environmental Health Supervisor Shannon Therriault explains that the health department's long-term goal is to cut emissions in the Air Stagnation Zone completely. The department requires removal of grandfathered woodstoves as houses change hands—at an average of once every seven years, Therriault says. Roughly 900 remain active to date.

"Better emissions is good, except we're working toward no emissions from those woodstoves, and that they'd be removed from those houses entirely," Therriault says. "It might be that we need to look at a way to do that faster."

County Air Quality Specialist Ben Schmidt adds that rewriting local regulations to allow homeowners to replace older woodstoves with updated models would require consultation with the EPA.

Hanson admits there are risks involved in the type of swap-out that woodstove users have pitched. People could take advantage of lighter regulations to sneak woodstoves into homes that don't presently have one. But he counters that pollution in the airshed can't get much worse.

"I'm kind of frustrated by the fact that these folks are locked in and there's nothing they can do about it," Hanson says.

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