BurnWise

From the Philippines to the Pacific Northwest – Working with Communities for Environmental Protection: A Return Peace Corps Volunteer’s Story

By Gina Bonifacino

My Peace Corps site assignment was not what I would have conjured in my mind as a kid, dreaming about a future adventure as a Peace Corps Volunteer in some isolated corner of the world. San Jose de Buenavista, Antique was a busy, medium-sized provincial capital in the Philippines.

I was assigned to the Provincial Planning Office to work on coastal management. With a very general assignment, and being new to the country and the community, my first challenge was figuring out how a fresh college graduate, new to the language and culture of the Philippines, could help.

A co-worker at the Provincial Planning Office was very excited about piloting a new method of gathering planning data, Participatory Resource Assessment (PCRA). As I learned more about this tool, I became interested in exploring it as a means to connect with communities and better understand coastal issues in the province.

After consulting with provincial colleagues and getting support from local officials, we planned and held a series of assessments with five coastal communities. These assessments brought community members and officials together to map and document issues in their communities.

The biggest issues that the communities identified – health concerns, livelihood and environmental degradation – were all closely linked. Many homes didn’t have access to clean water or sanitation. Women had to spend nearly an hour per day just to collect clean water. Without proper sanitation, waterways were polluted and children became sick. Most of these families subsisted on local fisheries, but had in recent years seen numbers declining due to encroachment from illegal fishing boats within municipal waters.

I’d have never been able to understand these issues without direct community engagement. And, I knew that solutions, like establishing a local fisheries policing force, required community involvement. It was incredibly rewarding to work and make friends with the community members.

It’s been more than 15 years since I’ve worked with the communities in the Philippines through the Peace Corps; however, that experience continues to serve me as an EPA employee in our Seattle office. After data showed that poor burning practices and burning in old, dirty woodstoves and fireplaces contributed to unhealthy particulate levels in many Pacific Northwest and Alaskan communities, I drew on my Peace Corps experience, and worked with local agencies, EPA’s Headquarters Office of Air and Radiation, and local communities on a campaign to reduce particulate matter from wood smoke.

The campaign grew and is now known as Burn Wise. As a result of EPA’s work with communities, many households have been able to help reduce particulate pollution from woodsmoke, increase heating efficiency, and improve the air they breathe inside of their homes.

About the author: Gina Bonifacino is with Region 10’s Puget Sound Program.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Provincial Planning office shows off its coastal management map.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Use Wood Wisely

By Steven Donohue, Region 3

I was born and bred in Pennsylvania. My teen years were spent chopping several cords of wood a year to feed a wood stove in an attempt to heat our drafty old house and reduce our heating bill.  
 
Today, I use about a half cord of wood a year in our fireplace to brighten cold nights and wet, dreary days. Our energy efficient house and careful burning reduce emissions and save time, money, and my back!

Before burning wood (or any other fuel for heating), it just makes sense to seal up any air leaks and add the recommended amount of insulation to keep the heat you generate inside your house.  “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” That old saying, by Philadelphia favorite Ben Franklin, applies as much today as when Ben said it in 1735. 

It’s also important to burn your wood efficiently. Anyone who’s ever tried to heat a house with a traditional fireplace knows they suck almost as much heat up the chimney as they provide.  Our 1970s wood stove was better than a fireplace, but still nowhere near as good as the EPA certified unit I have now.  Our fireplace insert is likely fifty percent more efficient, allowing us to burn a third less wood for the same heat.  And, a few years from now, we’ll have even more efficient units: EPA just proposed new rules to reduce the amount of particulate smoke (unburned fuel) down to the weight of about half a penny per hour.

When using our fireplace, I also make sure I burn only seasoned, dry wood.  Wet wood not only gives off less heat, but it makes more smoke and forms creosote that can cause chimney fires. Having planted my share of trees over the years, I know how long they take to grow, so I try to use the wood they provide us wisely.  Once again, a penny saved is a penny earned. To learn how to tell whether your firewood is ready to burn, and get other information on burning wood efficiently, please visit the  BurnWise website.

About the author: Steve Donohue has been an environmental scientist at EPA for over 20 years. Currently, he works in the Office of Environmental Innovation in Philadelphia where he focuses on greening EPA and other government facilities.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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The Wet Wood Burner

By Wendy Dew

I always know when the cold weather is coming: folks in my neighborhood start cutting wood for the next season. We usually decide on a weekend that works for everyone, get out the log splitters and get to work. All of my neighbors burn wood to offset heating costs. Plus, a lovely fire is just part of Colorado mountain living! We burn wood all winter long and we burn it wisely. We stack our wood each season away from our houses and in different piles so we only use the driest wood for the current season.

However, we have one neighbor who only burns wood cut recently so the wood is “wet.” We always know when they’re burning because the whole valley fills with stinky smoke. When you live in Colorado, you spend as much time outside in the winter as you do the summer. But this year, I may stay inside to avoid the smoke.

It’s important to burn wood correctly to be safe and healthy, and also to save money. Burn Wise is an EPA partnership program that teaches people to burn the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.
 

Practical Tips for Building a Fire

  • Season wood outdoors through the summer for at least 6 months before burning it, stacking it neatly off the ground with the top covered. Properly seasoned wood is darker, has cracks in the end grain, and sounds hollow when smacked against another piece of wood.
  •  Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20%. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test your wood before you burn it.
  • Start fires with newspaper and dry kindling or consider having a professional install a natural gas or propane log lighter in your open fireplace.
  • Burn hot fires, using only dry, well-seasoned wood that has been split properly.
  • To maintain proper airflow, regularly remove ashes from your wood-burning appliance using a metal container with a cover. Store the ashes outdoors.

Find out how you can burn wisely and avoid becoming the neighborhood “Wet Wood Burner.”

For more information: www.epa.gov/burnwise

About the author: Wendy Dew is the Outreach and Education Coordinator for EPA Region 8.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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Chestnuts Roasting On An Open Fire…

By Lina Younes

This past weekend my children decided to set up the Christmas tree.  At the end of the decorating event, they asked that we light up the chimney to sit back, have hot cocoa and roast marshmallows. Even though the evening was not that cold, we willingly complied because we wanted to share this special family moment around the open fire as the song goes.

While fireplaces may conjure fond memories of winters past, the fact is that you shouldn’t use just any type of wood or paper in a fireplace or wood-burning appliance. The key is to burn the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance. If you use the wrong type of wood and an unsafe appliance, the burning process may generate too much smoke with the wrong mix of gases and fine particles that may lead to serious health effects.

EPA has a partnership program, BurnWise, designed to create awareness on the proper materials and tools to protect your health, home and environment. It provides useful tips and advice in the selection of wood burning stoves and EPA Certified appliances. In addition to outreach materials, the website also has useful information on certain communities that have local ordinances to reduce wood smoke.

The proper use of the wood and these fuel-burning appliances will go a long way to protect your family and even prevent carbon monoxide poisoning. Follow us on Facebook and Twitter for weekly tips on our BurnWise program. Send us your comments. We would love to hear from you.

About the author: Lina Younes has been working for EPA since 2002 and currently serves as acting associate director for environmental education. Prior to joining EPA, she was the Washington bureau chief for two Puerto Rican newspapers and she has worked for several government agencies.

Editor’s Note: The opinions expressed in Greenversations are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.