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Press Release AG Healey Urges EPA to Revoke Flawed Wood Heater Tests That Threaten to Undermine Air Quality Protections

Particulate Matter Emissions from Wood Heaters Pose Serious Risks to Public Health Especially in Environmental Justice Communities
For immediate release:
5/24/2021
  • Office of Attorney General Maura Healey

Media Contact for AG Healey Urges EPA to Revoke Flawed Wood Heater Tests That Threaten to Undermine Air Quality Protections

Chloe Gotsis

BOSTON Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey Friday joined a coalition of nine attorneys general in calling on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to revoke certain unreliable test methods that have allowed residential wood heaters to be certified as compliant with emissions standards, when, in fact, they are not. The attorneys general argue these test methods are endangering public health, especially for those in environmental justice communities that are already overburdened by environmental harms, and should be withdrawn.

“EPA’s current system for certifying wood heater compliance with life-saving air pollution standards is deeply flawed, putting public health at serious risk,” AG Healey said. “We’re calling on the agency to immediately review and revoke these faulty test methods and prevent manufacturers from gaming the system at the expense of our most vulnerable communities.”

In a letter sent to EPA Friday, the attorneys general urge EPA to review and revoke certain “alternative test methods” for residential wood heaters that recent studies have shown to be easy to manipulate and produce unreliable results. These studies—conducted by the Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management (NESCAUM), Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation, and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority —audited over 250 wood heaters and found that the suspect certification test methods allow too much variability and permit manufacturers and testing laboratories to evade compliance with important air quality standards. According to the studies, these test methods result in artificially lower emissions of harmful pollutants than would result from consumers’ in-home use, putting the consumers’ health at serious risk from exposure to pollutants.

The attorneys general argue that the continued use of these deficient test methods threatens to undermine air quality protections for decades and places the public at risk of health effects from exposure to increased levels of particulate matter and other harmful pollutants. A group of state agencies—including the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection—also recently asked EPA to revoke the suspect test methods.

The Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office has been advocating for decades for EPA to update its 1988 emissions standards for wood heaters with more stringent standards. After prolonged litigation, in 2015, EPA issued more protective standards, which took effect in November 2020 despite numerous attempted delays by the Trump Administration. Since then, it has been legal to sell only compliance-certified wood heaters in the United States. But the alternative test methods at issue here—approved by Trump’s EPA in 2018—allow manufacturers to evade compliance and frustrate the purpose of EPA’s entire certification program. 

Fine particulate matter is easily inhaled, can lodge deep in the lungs and is linked to many serious medical conditions including asthma, bronchitis, and other serious respiratory conditions, and even premature death. Particulate matter pollution reduces visibility, contributes to the climate crisis, and degrades the environment. Fine particulate matter pollution is the largest environmental health risk factor in the country and increased exposure to the pollutant is linked to higher death rates of COVID-19. In May 2020, AG Healey issued a brief on the environmental factors, including elevated exposure to particulate matter pollution, that have compounded the COVID-19 pandemic’s disparate impact on communities of color in Massachusetts, and the steps the state should take to address the longstanding impact of environmental injustice on those communities.

AG Healey’s Office has also supported expanding air quality monitoring throughout the state to better understand the distribution and effects of particulate matter pollution, including in rural areas, low-income communities, and communities of color. Existing air monitors show that particulate matter pollution is highest in Black and Latinx communities, and these inequalities have worsened over time.  Last month, the AG’s Office launched a collaborative air quality monitoring project in Springfield, which has the highest rates of asthma in the country. This project includes the installation of 80 air quality sensors, including 40 long-term sensors that will collect data on the concentrations of particulate matter and ozone pollution throughout the city.

Joining AG Healey in sending the letter to EPA are the attorneys general of New York, Alaska, Maryland, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, as well as the Puget Sound Clean Air Agency.

 

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Media Contact for AG Healey Urges EPA to Revoke Flawed Wood Heater Tests That Threaten to Undermine Air Quality Protections

Office of Attorney General Maura Healey 

Attorney General Maura Healey is the chief lawyer and law enforcement officer of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
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