Bill Barker quit smoking more than 20 years ago but he’s still breathing smoke.
According to Barker, smoke from his neighbour’s outdoor wood boiler, which was installed four years ago, is making his life miserable and ruining his health. When it’s burning, he says, smoke can envelope his home, making it impossible to open the windows or go outside. To make matters worse, the fresh air intake on his furnace brings in the smoke.
Diagnosed with COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), he now spits up blood. He’s gone to the Ministry of Environment, Interior Health and the City of Salmon Arm, but they say they can’t help.
“I want it shut down. I need it shut down. My quality of life this last four years has just been hell. This stuff is hazardous,” says Barker. He has a letter from a lung doctor in Kamloops that says he will have continuing and worsening symptoms if he keeps breathing the smoke.
Meanwhile his neighbour, John Olson, who’s 85, says he has used a wood stove for 40 years. He started using an outdoor wood boiler four winters ago, safety being one of the reasons.
“I’m 85. That why I wanted to play it a little safe, have the fire outside where it wouldn’t burn the house down.”
He says he and his wife enjoy the heat from it and also use it to heat their water. He thought he was doing a good thing based on saving hydro-electricity.
Olson said he has signatures of 13 neighbours who have stated the smoke doesn’t bother them.
“Some people are closer than him, and not one had a complaint.”
He doesn’t see why he should stop using the boiler, noting that six or seven other people are using them in Gleneden, and he says an Interior Health official has seen it.
“I burn two-year-old wood. It isn’t that there is any green wood being burnt. He (Barker) has just got a thing going and won’t let go of it.”
Barker, meanwhile, says a Ministry of Environment official came out and did a wind study that explains why other neighbours aren’t concerned.
“Without a doubt it shows the winds go directly from his burner to my house.”
He said in the fall of 2010, he offered to pay for his neighbour to put a higher stack on his chimney or to install a natural gas furnace, but he declined.
“If I get a breath of it, my day is gone. I get into hyper-ventilation. Last time I went into emergency, they couldn’t get my heart rate under 105…”
Barker says government should be taking action, particularly the city, which he believes should enforce its own bylaw on outdoor or open burning, which forces people to get a permit that can be revoked if there’s excessive smoke or odour.
Carl Bannister, the city’s chief administrative officer, says the only bylaw that applies to the boilers is one adopted in 2007. It doesn’t allow new outdoor wood boilers, but ones that were already installed are grandfathered in.
“I think Mr. Barker’s issue is with Interior Health and the Ministry of Environment who have primary responsibility for air quality.”
Neither of those agencies is stepping in, however. Medical health officer for Interior Health, Paul Hasselback, who was not familiar with this case, says there’s currently a shortcoming in the legislation.
“It’s a significant challenge to demonstrate there is a health impact, so there is a legislative gap.”
The province has apparently been working on legislation to regulate the sale of outdoor wood burners, but several years have passed.
Hasselback said most systems sold don’t meet Environmental Protection Act standards, but should. Interior Health shut down a burner in the Hillcrest neighbourhood in 2008 after neighbours were impacted. Former medical health officer for Interior Health, Digby Horne, issued an order under Section 63 of the Health Act, indicating the boiler was creating a health hazard. However, complaints had been received from dozens of neighbours regarding that particular location.
At the Ministry of Environment, meteorologist Ralph Adams said provincial legislation has been revised but not yet enacted.
“Even if the amendments came into effect, they would not affect the operation of the boiler in Gleneden. The ministry continues to encourage local governments to enact bylaws prohibiting the installation of these boilers.”
Adams stated the ministry will continue to observe the boiler when staff visit the area.
“We have no intention at this time of issuing a Pollution Abatement Order against this boiler as we do not have sufficient evidence to support it.”