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City sets crosshairs on polluting wood stoves

Wood stove loan program has helped 172 homeowners replace polluting wood stoves in last 15 years.
Kathy Aney

East Oregonian

Published on January 6, 2016 8:47PM

Last changed on January 6, 2016 9:12PM

Steve Quinn of Pendleton replaced his uncertified fireplace insert with a new gas burning one using a loan program through the city of Pendleton.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Steve Quinn of Pendleton replaced his uncertified fireplace insert with a new gas burning one using a loan program through the city of Pendleton.

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Home owner Steve Quinn says he likes not having to chop wood anymore to heat his home and instead just has to push a button on his thermostat.

Staff photo by E.J. Harris

Home owner Steve Quinn says he likes not having to chop wood anymore to heat his home and instead just has to push a button on his thermostat.

Buy this photo

Gradually, inefficient wood stoves are vanishing from Pendleton homes, but the pace has slowed.

In 2000, the city started offering zero interest loans of up to $3,000 to homeowners with wood stoves that aren’t certified by the Environmental Protection Agency or Oregon Department of Environmental Quality. During the first two years, 93 residents replaced their stoves with cleaner burning gas, electric or certified wood units.

Though the city boosted the loan amount to $3,500 in 2004, use of the program has dwindled over the past few years. In fiscal year 2013-14, nobody applied. Last year, there were only two. Altogether, 172 stoves were replaced using city loans since the program’s inception.

City employee Steve Quinn applied to replace an uncertified fireplace insert about eight months ago when he moved into a new home on Jay Street. On Tuesday, the new Neptune gas unit glowed in his living room, flame visible through a glass door. His yellow lab puppy, Rudy, lay near the brick hearth as Quinn rubbed the dog’s ears. Quinn said he loves the new stove for a pair of reasons.

Number one — “I don’t have to chop wood,” he said. “It’s nice to push a button and be done with it.”

Secondly, his expenses dropped to $120 a month in the winter for electricity and $35 for gas.

Pendleton’s regulatory specialist Klaus Hoehna and Umatilla County Public Health Director Meghan DeBolt hope more people will use the loan program. The city seeks to reignite interest and finish the job of consigning all those inefficient stoves to the recycling center.

“There’s been a steady decline in use of the loan program,” said DeBolt, who is a member of the Pendleton Air Quality Commission.

The commission doesn’t know if most of the stoves have been replaced or if people are unaware of the program. An inventory back in the mid-’90s revealed that approximately 900 uncertified stoves existed within Pendleton’s urban growth boundary.

“We think there are at least 400 stoves left out there,” Klaus said.

The uncertainty comes because not everyone who got rid of an inefficient stove applied for a no-interest loan. Oregon regulation requires removal and destruction of uncertified stoves and fireplace inserts before a home can be bought or sold. Some of those sellers didn’t access the program.

DeBolt said wood smoke contains fine particulates that can get into people’s respiratory systems and aggravate lung diseases such as asthma and trigger lung infections. Children, teenagers, older adults and people with chronic lung and heart disease are most vulnerable.

Hoehna produced a graph that shows particulate matter steadily decreasing since the program’s launch in 1991 until 2007, but wood smoke still causes respiratory distress when the air is cold and stagnant. Commission member Robert Maranville is a respiratory therapist at St. Anthony Hospital. During a recent inversion, he treated a stream of people for breathing issues.

“We had some bad air quality days and I was extraordinarily busy over the weekend,” Maranville said. “The ER was busy with multiple patients having breathing problems.”

Those who aren’t sure whether their stoves meet emission standards can look for a sticker on their stove emblazoned with the name of either the Environmental Protection Agency or the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality.

To nail down just how many stoves remain in Pendleton, the city recently launched a survey on its website. Residents of Pendleton and the surrounding area are encouraged to fill out a short questionnaire. The answers will give the commission an idea of how many stoves remain within city limits or lurk just outside town. The commission welcomes responses for people outside the growth boundary because the city is considering geographically expanding the program.

Each stove removed is a victory, said Oregon DEQ Air Quality Specialist Larry Calkins, who is based in Pendleton and advises the commission.

“Each uncertified stove that comes out of a home will benefit air quality,” Calkins said. “On poor ventilation days, smoke in the air stays right at the ground’s surface where people breathe.”

An uncertified stove produces 11 times as much pollution as a certified stove, he said. Calkins applauded the city for offering the loans.

“Pendleton is pretty unique in Oregon,” he said. “I’ve been trying to push Pendleton’s program to other areas of the state.”

The city council approved $20,000 for this year’s program — that’s five possible replacements.

Here’s the way the program works: Go to the city’s building department and apply. Select a replacement heating system from a city-approved list. Select a contractor. Meet all permit and inspection requirements. Provide receipts and a certificate from Pendleton Sanitary Service that the stove was disposed of properly.

The to-do list sounds grueling, but is fairly simple, said Hoehna. The contractor generally hauls away the old stove and secures the certificate. Pendleton Sanitary Service recycles the metal.

Maranville encouraged those don’t think their stove doesn’t make that much difference in air quality.

“You might think it’s just one little stove,” he said, “but when everybody does it, it has a big effect.”

To take the city’s Wood Stove Utilization Survey, go to www.pendleton.or.us and look for the survey under News & Announcements.

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Contact Kathy Aney at kaney@eastoregonian.com or call 541-966-0810.



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