When we think of air pollution, our minds might be directed to power plants with big smokestacks or idling trucks, but there are other sources that can cause breathing problems. Among these are outdoor wood boilers (OWB), units that burn wood to heat water that is then used to heat a home or building. Indiana has more than 8,000 units across our state.
Homeowners and small businesses are using OWBs as a low-cost source of heat because of the rising cost of propane and as a way to recycle downed trees and use domestically produced fuel. But because few local governments in Indiana have passed policies restricting their use, OWBs may sometimes be located in residential areas close to neighbors. They can emit smoke 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Studies of indoor air quality at houses as far away as 850 feet from an OWB show tiny particles of wood smoke at six times the levels of houses not near an outdoor wood boiler and four times the levels of the Environmental Protection Agency air standards.
Indiana residents living near OWBs have complained about chronic bronchitis, throat and lung problems, sinusitis, and other breathing problems. Some working-class families have had to purchase expensive air filters and may face medical bills they cannot afford.