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Utah pollution fight tackles furnaces, fireplaces and more

Published July 11, 2012 8:26 am

State proposes rules to phase out pilot lights to cut soot contamination.
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Linda Johnson douses the pilot light on her gas fireplace each spring. Not only does it save money, but it also cuts dirty emissions that contribute to Utah's winter pollution.

"Every little bit helps," says Johnson, an environmental-issues watchdog for the League of Women Voters in Utah.

With this in mind, the Utah Division of Air Quality is proposing new regulations to phase out pilot lights as part of a larger strategy to help reduce fine soot pollution, aka "PM2.5" or the haze that sometimes rises to unhealthy levels in winter.

The proposals, including regulations to cut fumes from paint and refinishing shops, will be up for public and technical comment in a series of meetings next week.

Division scientists must come up with a workable plan to submit to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency by mid-December.

The new pollution reductions would bolster some already in place in Salt Lake, Davis, Weber and Utah counties. The reductions would also apply to Cache, Box Elder and Tooele counties, where emissions testing and wood-burning bans haven't been required to meet the federal, health-based pollution limits.

Even with expanded controls, plus additional reductions at big industrial plants, Salt Lake and Utah counties are struggling to pare pollution. So the state is looking for more emission trims, even at the fireplace or furnace level in homes and at businesses such as bakeries and degreasing, coating and wood-refinishing shops.

All of those little pollution sources release volatile organic compounds, a key component in boosting sooty pollution from combustion and creating what's called "secondary PM 2.5."

Microscopic PM 2.5 gets trapped in the lungs and affects health in a variety of ways, from irritating eyes and making throats scratchy to sending asthmatics to the emergency room and sending others to an early grave from heart attacks.

Division Director Bryce Bird noted that if electronic ignition is required for appliances such as water heaters, furnaces and gas fireplaces, no one will have to get rid of appliances with pilot lights they already own. But new appliances would need electronic ignitions.

"They are controls that have been used in other areas of the country," Bird said. "What we have found is all of these strategies are needed — especially in Salt Lake County and Utah County."

Steve Lauritzen, president of Utah Geothermal Inc. in Orem, said the new regulations won't be a problem for furnaces, which typically come with electronic ignition these days. But the state's plan could mean significant costs for people buying water heaters or fireplace inserts, since most models still use pilot lights.

As an example, he pointed to tankless water heaters that don't use pilot lights. One retailer sells a 50-gallon model for nearly $800, while a comparable model with a pilot light costs about half as much.

"There are options," he said, "but they cost more."

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah —

Seeking input on winter pollution cuts

The Utah Division of Air Quality is seeking technical and public input on certain strategies for reducing PM2.5 pollution.

Monday • Surface-coating operations that release volatile organic compounds (VOCs)— including those dealing with fabric and vinyl, metal, wood furniture, film, foil, large appliances, as well as auto-body refinishing — will be the focus of the meeting at 1 p.m. in Department of Environmental Quality's boardroom at the Multi Agency State Office Building, 195 N. 1950 West, Salt Lake City. 

Wednesday • Businesses with large industrial baking ovens and operators who use appliances with pilot lights and wood stoves will be in the spotlight at 5:30 p.m. at the same location.

July 14 • Two meetings are set at the Bear River Migratory Bird Refuge, Brigham City. The session from 10-11:30 a.m. will be for surface-coating operations. The session from noon to 1:30 p.m. will focus on VOC emission sources from surface-coating operations that release VOCs, including those dealing with fabric and vinyl, metal, wood furniture, film, foil, large appliances, as well as auto-body refinishing.