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A collection of letters written by Vic Steblin

More to come...

Subdivision WS Free 

Near the University of Northern British Columbia in Prince George is a new subdivision of beautiful homes, carved out of the forest, with stunning views of the valley. I went into the sales office and asked if they are allowed to burn wood, since none of the homes seemed to have stove pipes sticking up, or wood piles stacked nearby.

The office person said that the residents can burn in accordance to the city clean air bylaw, but then their house insurance would also rise. So no one burns. Here in the clean air, with all that wood lying around, they just use natural gas. Exactly how it should be in a modern crowded area.

Stove Makers same as Big Tobacco 

On January 06, 2014, the CBC radio hosted a debate on e-cigarettes. Two opposing people presented lots of interesting pro/cons for this product. One pro was that e-cigarettes help addicted smokers to quit.

Of concern to both sides was the appeal of flavored, e-cigarettes to young people. Big Tobacco hooked many young people with glamorous advertising, while downplaying health effects.

A similar situation applies to wood stove makers. Those super efficient stoves are just like e-cigarettes, supposedly safer. Yet the basic issue of unnecessary smoke in the first place is ignored. Modern wood stoves are just like e-cigarettes, when the best is obviously to just butt out.

Move Away 

A common statement by wood burners is “If you don’t like my smoke, then move away”. “This is a free country, so move away. ” This may have been OK in the pioneer days, but modern crowded areas need consideration and cooperation by all residents.

Sometimes a burner moves into a once clean area and starts producing smoke. Or someone is persuaded that a new modern wood stove is cheaper or better for the environment.

Considerate people in crowded areas stop burning wood. This leaves the inconsiderate ones still burning, and saying “If you don’t like it, move away”. How about “tit for tat” and the burners should “move away”.

Burn It Up 

Humans have been burning for much of history. Africa burns its savanna annually and the smoke can be seen from space. Australia and Mediterranean areas regularly burn off hazardous undergrowth. Logging companies burn off residue according to professional forestry codes. Ranchers and farmers burn old grass and crops to release nutrients.

Even lightning by nature burns whole forests. Humans, following nature’s example, seem to love burning.  Spring bonfires are used to clear up old branches and yard waste. The burner barrel handled household garbage until too much smoke was produced by too many people. Wood burners still display their historical right to burn anywhere and anytime they please.

Times and conditions change, however, and humans everywhere must reconsider historical traditions for a cleaner modern society. We must leave some old things behind, educate ourselves with modern technology and use resources better. We should stop burning things up. Let the pile of leaves or branches slowly rot into soil. Use the community recycling bins.

Wood Ash as Radioactive 

Wood ash can be radioactive.

http://forestpolicyresearch.com/2009/05/03/your-firewood-ash-is-radioactive-wildfires-are-nuclear-fallout/    Science News – August 10, 1991

While cleaning ashes from his fireplace two years ago, Stewart A. Farber mused that if trees filter and store airborne pollutants, they might also harbor fallout from the nuclear weapons tests of the 1950s and 1060s. On a whim, he brought some of his fireplace ash to Yankee Atomic Electric Co.’s environmental lab in Bolton, Mass., where he manages environmental monitoring. Farber says he was amazed to discover that his sample showed the distinctive cesium and strontium “signatures” of nuclear fallout – and that the concentration of radioactivity “was easily 100 times greater than anything our lab had ever seen in an environmental sample.”

Since then, he has obtained wood-ash radioactivity assays from 16 other scientists across the nation. These 47 data sets, representing trees in 14 states, suggest that fallout in wood ash “is a major source of radioactivity released into the environment,” Farber says. With the exception of some very low California readings, all measurements of ash with fallout-cesium exceeded – some by 100 times or more – the levels of radioactive cesium that may be released from nuclear plants (about 100 picocuries per kilogram of sludge).

Already, many companies are recycling this unregulated ash in fertilizers. The irony, Farber says, is that federal regulations require releases from nuclear plants to be disposed of as radioactive wastes if they contain even 1 percent of the cesium and strontium levels detected in the ash samples from New England. If ash were subject to the same regulations, he says, its disposal would cost U.S. wood burners more than $30 billion annually.

Religion, Guns, and Wood Stoves 

Very interesting, the following comment. “It seems people are clinging to wood stoves in addition to their religion and guns. Wouldn't our society be much improved if all three magically ceased to exist tomorrow?

All three issues, religion, guns and wood stoves, come from a basic need of humans to rely on outside, supposedly higher powers.

Religion is common when humans cannot understand something. Many fail to realize that humans are truly creative. We make up language, culture, novels, music, living for ever, Santa, God, marriage customs, etc.

Guns are common because many humans need security of mind and body against perceived threats to life and family. Physical strength is not good enough anymore when any weakling can pull a trigger.

Wood stoves are common because humans have lost our layers of fur or blubber. We then rely on external heat like wood, coal, oil, electricity, gas, geothermal. etc.

Banning wood stoves from crowded areas might be the easiest of the three issues to resolve. We can easily bring back our lost fur by wearing layers. Use modern “drywear” plus a thin sock for the first layer next to your skin. The next layer is the historical underwear plus a second thicker sock. And use two sweaters if still cold after a third layer of normal clothes. Your house never needs to be above 60F (15C) and you don’t need a wood stove to smoke out of neighbors.

Reasons to Burn Response

Reasons to Burn Wood (from hubpages.com) …and my responses

1. Wood burning is free, cheaper and more cost-effective than other fuels. Only with low quality wood, a poor stove and when inconsiderate to others.

2. Wood is a renewable energy resource. Only when trees are given enough time to grow. Consider 7 billion people burning wood.

3. Burning wood doesn’t contribute to global warming. False, since per unit of heat produced, wood produces more CO2 than coal.

4. Gives independence from big energy suppliers and the impact of industrial and labor disputes. Wear layers of clothes in a cooler house and pay even less.

5. Wood burning is fun. Not for those close by, while breathing in smoke.

6. Collecting and cutting timber is good exercise. Go for a walk instead.

7. Wood burning is romantic. One needs a fire to be romantic?

8. Heat the space you are in, not the whole house. Use a small electric heater.

9. Wood burning makes a great energy backup in troubled times. Just be patient.

10. There is nothing like a real fire in the middle of winter. Except health.



A Prince George (PG) referendum has been called for October 2014 to ask citizens if they would like to continue to fluoridate their ­community water systems. The goal of a growing number of concerned citizens networking together in this central B.C. city is to be fluoride free.  by Jane Shaak  Source: Health Action, Summer 2013

How about a referendum on “banning wood burning where natural gas is available”? I find annoying the double standard of caring about the water while ignoring the air. The head of the Prince George Clean Water Society once responded to one of my letters against wood burning by writing that burning wood is like a “breath of clean air”. She was against “medicating the water” with fluoride and yet went home to “medicate the air” with her wood smoke.

Some claim that wood smoke is “good in small doses”. Ditto for fluoride. As Paracelsus claimed, “The dose makes the poison”.

The dose makes the poison is common adage first expressed by Paracelsus intended to indicate a basic principle of toxicology. It means that a substance can produce the harmful effect associated with its toxic properties only if it reaches a susceptible biological system within the body in a high enough concentration (dose). (Wikipedia)

If Prince George stops the fluoridation of its water, then it also makes sense to hold a referendum on banning wood burning near natural gas.

Double Standards PGAQ #505 

Wood burners often display double standards.

First, are those who say cigarette smoking is bad while wood burning is OK. Governments even get into this one, discouraging cigarettes while encouraging wood burning. The new Cancer Centre of the North in Prince George displays “No Smoking” signs at the front entrance within clear view of a wood stove and pile of wood less than 50 steps away. The response to my complaint was “They are burning according to code”.

Second, are those against pipeline pollution, like “green” college students who go home and stoke up “natural” wood stoves. Add up all the pollution from wood smoke and it is not clean, green, safe, healthy or cheap for crowded areas. For many environmentalists, fracking the ground is bad but burning wood is good.

Third, are those fighting for clean water who then go home and fill the air with wood smoke. They say “No medicating the water with fluoride” yet medicate the air with smoke. A little bit of smoke is considered good.

Fourth, are bike riders who care about reducing vehicle pollution and getting active yet go home to stoke up the stove with “clean, green” wood.

Fifth, are those who try to reduce car idling. Every time I see a sign against idling I think about those who then go home to light up their wood stove.

Sixth, are the medical health officials who encourage people to get more active by cutting, hauling, and stacking wood. They encourage people to be careful about diet and exercise but not about the air.

The air is more important than water, food, or exercise, yet the same concern and care is strangely missing for many with double standards. Reminds me of those who belittle the made up beliefs of Santa, but of course their religious beliefs are somehow different.

Getting Ahead

Humans are successful because we recognize opportunities to get ahead. To get ahead takes hard work and luck or we had rich parents. But notice how many passenger pigeons, bison or salmon are left once humans use opportunities to get ahead. The penguins of Antarctica would be long gone by now if we could have easily got down there.

Clean air is no different. Why not get ahead by using the clean air? Fill our air with wood smoke since burning wood is considered cheaper than other sources. Burners claim that they are only looking after themselves and their families and of course families come first.

Using wood for home heat would still be OK if there weren’t so many of us. History also promoted wood heat since there was no decent alternative in the cavemen and pioneer days. And of course wood burning is considered clean, green and cheap if you are promoting the wood stove business.

There are a few considerate ones who try to preserve clean air by wearing warm clothes in a colder house, or using more expensive systems like geothermal, electricity and natural gas. I guess it takes a selfish wood burner using up the clean air to really get ahead in modern society. Wood burners do not care about others.

Somehow OK to Burn

How did it become OK to burn wood? Wood burners seem to have this right, no matter what. They know it historically, feel it socially, and display it righteously.

History allowed humans to use wood in the cavemen and pioneer days. There was no other option in colder climates. Trees provided the obvious fuel. So there they say!

Socially, if no one complains humans feel free to continue with anything. That is the foundation for community bylaws. If no one complains about wood smoke, why do anything about it.  So there they say!

Righteously, wood burners proclaim, “How dare anyone say anything about my God-given right to burn!” Complainers are considered losers. So there!

In my opinion, the solution to the wood smoke issue in crowded areas is complaining. If no one complains, then nothing will be done. So if you are bothered by wood smoke, speak up, complain to the burner and also complain to the authorities.

Flip the Switch

When sewer lines come through a crowded community, all the houses must hook up and pay the utility bill. Homeowners may complain but they are not allowed to build outhouses or sewage lagoons where sewer is available.

When natural gas comes through a crowded community, most houses except the wood burners flip the switch. Wood burners complain that the costs are too high and then are free to pollute the air with smoke. The Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) claims that wood smoke is about 12 times more carcinogenic than cigarette smoke in equal amounts. Check out  http://www.familiesforcleanair.org/

This double standard exists because wood burners are inconsiderate, officials turn a blind eye, and not enough residents complain. Wood smoke causes health problems, even cancer, yet few do anything about it. Wood burners will bring up all sorts of lame excuses to keep up a filthy practice that should be long gone in crowded areas where cleaner sources are available. Flip the switch and throw your wood pile back into the bush to rot into soil.

Fine-tuning the Stagecoach

Promoting wood burning is like fine tuning the stagecoach, both silly in a modern age of ever improving cleaner home heat and vehicles. With wood burning, even particle reductions to 1 gram of smoke per kilogram of wood pollutes hundreds of times more than natural gas and is off the scale with respect to solar or geothermal.

Modern ideas for reducing wood smoke are unrealistic. Requiring EPA or CSA stove approval, insisting on computerized oxygen sensors and “upgrade your old stove programs” just “fine tune the stagecoach”. Many burners “damper down” for an extended night time burn under the convenience of darkness. This is akin to still putting the horse in the barn for the night instead of just parking the car.

We allow and enjoy an old vintage vehicle, just like we enjoy watching a horse plowing. The same nostalgia applies to a bonfire, as long as it does not bother others. But when we need house heat in crowded areas, butt out with the stagecoach of wood burning. We should rightly complain about a pile of hay and horses in crowded areas, and we should also complain about the pile of wood.

 WS like Hedge Funds

Since 1980, 60% of the economic gains in North American society have gone to the richest 1%.  Hedge fund manager John Paulson made $3.7 billion betting against the sub-prime mortgages. In what moral world is one rich person worth more than combined thousands of ordinary workers?

In our world great inequalities are tolerated, encouraged and even admired. In our world many admire those that get ahead at the expense of others. Throw in some history and we also have monarchies and dynasties, as if human DNA were somehow special for those privileged few.

Now consider wood burning. Wood pollutes thousands of times more than natural gas, solar or geothermal. How fair is that? In our world many admire getting ahead at the expense of others. In our world officials allows others to pollute clean air as if those few alone owned it.

But only the poor burn wood, you say. Hedge fund managers do not burn wood, you say. The principle is the same. Both violate moral principles, with hedge funds or polluting the air. A decent society must strive for balance and fairness. A decent individual must strive for balance and fairness. Not fair that both hedge fund managers and wood burners can get away with so much abuse to the system. More of us should complain.

Killing for Beliefs

If someone is prepared to die for a belief, then they will also generally kill for that belief. The self righteous often say that they are considerate and will never do harm, but actions speak louder than words.

Take the wood burner who will “die with a poker in hand”. They will also harm others with smoke. This is no different from the suicide terrorist who will kill for eternal rewards. Strong belief warps minds.

What do reasonable people do when presented with new information that contradicts old beliefs? They change their mind. When shown the facts of evolution, a reasonable mind changes old beliefs.

When shown facts like the dangers of wood smoke, a considerate person stops smoking near others. For those in the vicinity of natural gas who will “die with a poker in hand”, shame for a lifetime of abuse.


A few years ago at our Greek class a theology student took offence at my suggestion that evolution should be treated with due respect. He found my attitude offensive to his belief. Yet his belief of course was not considered offensive.

Similarly many wood burners find offensive those who might suggest that their smoke bothers others. They believe that they have a right to pollute the air to keep warm, even if other sources of heat are cleaner. They believe that smoke does little harm, regardless of what the facts say. They find offensive anyone who complains.

On the other side, people who prefer cleaner air find smoke offensive. Really offensive are those people who live in big houses with big vehicles who still burn wood. Those that have access to natural gas should not burn wood by law. It should be as obvious as requiring hook-ups to the sewer line where sewer is available. It should be as obvious as laws to prohibit shooting in crowded areas.

WS as Laziness

Many wood burners claim that their right to burn comes from all their hard work. But to burn properly takes a lot of knowledge and maintenance even after all that wood is stacked nearby. Drying wood properly, cleaning the flue annually, not damping down soon goes by the wayside. The hard work and care disappears with the annoyance of repetition and “Why should others care about a little smoke?” Most people do as little as possible and thus create the maximum pollution!

Wood burners basically do not care about others. They seem to work hard for their own comfort at the expense of others. They are selfish. They violate many community issues, like the Golden Rule, Precautionary Principle, Polluter Pays, and Tragedy of the Commons.

If wood burners followed all the proper rules, wood burning actually becomes more expensive than other cleaner types of heat. Add in the hidden health costs to others and it is off the chart. What decent society allows this? Burning wood is not the hard work it is made out to be, it is selfish and nasty. It should against the law in the vicinity of natural gas.

Silly Times Three

Wood burning in crowded areas is silly. If one has access to cleaner heat like natural gas, burning wood is like insisting on having an outhouse, horse buggy or an icebox. Silly times three. Wood burners in crowded areas are selfish, inconsiderate, and irresponsible. It should be against the law.

Both common sense and the law say to hook up to sewer. Common sense says to use an efficient modern vehicle for transport or a modern fridge for food. These are three common sense everyday practices.

Yet the wood burner fills the surrounding air with dangerous odours, ignores the health effects of particulate, and shows little consideration for neighbours and cleaner air.

One observes silly three times with every wood pile. And the main reason wood burners get away with smoke is because not enough decent people complain about this silliness.

WS like the Outhouse  

Wood smoke is like an outhouse. Outdated in technology, offensive to some, and unhealthy in crowded areas.

Outdated in technology.  We have modern sources of heat, like natural gas with a programmable thermostat or geothermal.  Best of all, use layers of clothes in a cooler house.

Offensive to some. While personal odors are usually tolerated by that individual, others are usually offended, although some odors bring back fond memories of the olden days. I know my uncle on the prairies could never get used to the idea of indoor plumbing and had to go outside to the outhouse for solace. The same “good old days” apply to wood smoke.

Unhealthy. Consider all the modern research that shows smoke particulate to be dangerous to health. Is a wood burner in crowded areas so special that they get to smoke out neighbors with any amount of particulate? Is wood heat really that green, clean, cheap and sustainable as claimed by environmentalists? The precautionary principle says to err on the safe side.

Outhouses are banned in crowded areas because of odor and possible leakage to neighbors. If one has access to a modern sewage system, then they are required to use it. The same should apply to wood smoke. Let the olden days go in crowded areas. Let the olden days go in any place that may offend others.

WS like the Gun (PGAQ #450)

A few years ago a concerned group of environmentalist UNBC students organized a rally against pipelines and pollution in Prince George, all the while promoting "clean, green, cheap, and sustainable" WOOD BURNING!! Go figure! It's like owning a gun, supposedly all OK until someone shoots up a school.

Ditto for wood burners; OK until someone smokes out a neighbor. Same social science principles involved here. Consider the "Alliance for Green Heat", same principle; OK until too many start shooting or burning up the area.

Like using a gun in crowded areas, even one is too many. Let the wood rot into soil! I wear three layers of clothes and feel fine in a cooler house. I will not smoke out my neighbors.

Suzuki on the Edge (PGAQ #449)

In 2012 David Suzuki and Ian Hanington wrote a book called “Everything Under the Sun, Toward a Brighter Future on a Small Blue Planet”. The book “explores the interconnectedness of the world’s myriad environmental challenges” and introduces one possible solution through the new science of sustainability. This science includes (from P90), “ ... developing cleaner energy … , reducing the impact of pollution on human health, … , creating more livable urban environments, ...” These passages remind me of the effect  that wood smoke can have on modern society and makes me think that Suzuki is “on the edge” with wood smoke. Wood is considered “sustainable” when only a select few of us 7 billion humans burn it and then only in special areas.

Chapter 9, (Healthy People, Healthy Planet) has some interesting passages. On P226, “A while back, his (Suzuki’s grandson Gunny) other grandfather was chopping wood, and, as he was piling up the pieces, there was Gunny, (about 18 months old) barely able to walk, struggling to carry a piece of wood to the pile!” From this passage it would seem that Suzuki has a soft spot in his heart for burning wood. Yet soon after on P228 he says “Cleaner sources of energy would reduce pollution and the health problems that go along with it.” It takes about one magnitude (10 times) of higher polluting wood to produce the same heat as high quality coal. If all 7 billion of us burned wood we would soon have a bigger problem than with using fossil fuels. Wood is NOT a decent energy substitute for all of humanity. Wood is only green, clean, cheap and sustainable if very few use it, and also use it only in rural areas.

A nice passage comes on P235, “In imagining a better future, we must open ourselves to the idea of change. And we’d do well to remember that people with vision have been overturning outmoded ways of thinking and acting throughout our brief history on this earth – often in the face of great resistance.” On P241”We continue to burn things until there is nothing left to burn, and we continue to allow fossil-fuel interests to spew pollution into the air without cost, but where will that leave us? Maybe scrounging for roots and berries and huddling in caves for shelter.” What about wood? Not a fossil fuel? I think that “outmoded wood burning” needs the same “better vision” and thus Suzuki should be “on the edge” of a mind change about burning wood. Seriously consider wearing more layers of warm clothes in a colder house until better geothermal systems show up.

The Cleanest Wood Stove (PGAQ #448)

I was just sent the April Wood Heat Newsletter # 44 from the Alliance for Green Heat which presents an article called What's the Cleanest Wood Stove?  

Fire was probably one of the first and most important discovery/inventions by humans. I can imagine how crucial it was to health by cooking the bad things out of food, keeping predators at bay, warmth and probably most important, a focus for love and the social bond.

Now fast forward to our modern age. The “Cleanest Wood Stove “is “NO Wood Stove At All”. In crowded areas, the wood stove in any form, best EPA Standard or best Pellet Technology, is still unacceptable. Nobody should be allowed to smoke out neighbors in crowded areas, even if you cannot see or smell the particles.

In a modern age we can get healthy food from the local store, predators are mostly handled by the police, and warmth is best handled by layers of clothes and your natural gas thermostat. That most important social bond is best encouraged by a neighborly greeting and a SMILE.

Wood smoke has NO place in a modern, crowded society. 

Webinar of EPA NSPS (PGAQ #452)

On Thursday, May 9, 2013, I listened to the webinar titled “Innovation and the NSPS: How can the EPA encourage innovative new technologies?” This 1.5 hour long session was sponsored by Joseph Seymour of the Biomass Thermal Energy Council (BTEC) and John Ackerly of the Alliance for Green Heat (AGH). It featured Gil Wood of the New Source Performance Standards (NSPS) program of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who explained the new proposed standards for the biomass industry available by summer 2013 for a 90 day public input period and for final rules by summer 2014.

Gil said that he was “open to better ideas” like digital controls for wood stoves modeled on the oxygen sensors of newer vehicles. He brought up the concept of Cost Benefit Analysis (CBA) for biomass heating and that “Wood stove appearance sells more models than actual performance”.

How about the best idea of all, NO BIOMASS BURNING OF ANY KIND AT ALL IN CROWDED AREAS!  And although the poor seem to have the right to pollute, it turns out that clean air always costs. The constant “playing around with rules” by the wood industry finding loopholes is annoying.

The whole concept of burning biomass is as silly as building a better stagecoach or making a better cigarette. Time and innovation should be spent on economical geothermal systems for houses and efficient Liquid Natural Gas (LNG) systems for larger vehicles. Let the wood rot into soil. Wear layers of clothes in a cooler house or public building. As to the example of Europe “leading the way in reducing fossil fuel global warming by promoting biomass burning”, health comes first.

When in Doubt, Shout (PGAQ #446)

The following two paragraphs come from science writer Ed Yong and a google search of “When in doubt, shout”.

You don’t have to look very far for examples of people holding on to their beliefs in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Thousands still hold to the idea that vaccines cause autism, that all life was created a few thousand years ago, and even that drinking industrial bleach is a good idea. Look at comment threads across the internet and you’ll inevitably find legions of people who boldly support for these ideas in the face of any rational argument.

That might be depressing, but it’s not unexpected. In a new study, David Gal and Derek Rucker from Northwestern University have found that when people’s confidence in their beliefs is shaken, they become “stronger” advocates for those beliefs. The duo carried out three experiments involving issues such as animal testing, dietary preferences, and loyalty towards Macs over PCs. In each one, they subtly manipulated their subjects’ confidence and found the same thing: when faced with doubt, people shout even louder.

This phenomenon applies to wood burners in crowded areas who are faced with the fact that their smoke just might be causing harm to others. They start to produce even more smoke. They will also strongly support their burning with “an appeal to nature”, with “historical tradition” and with ridicule of anyone who suggests otherwise. They will even “die with a poker in their hands”.

Wood Smoke Parallel to Loud Music (PGAQ #443)

Wood smoke has an interesting parallel to loud music. Many municipal bylaws have restrictions for loud music like none after 11pm.  Most also have bylaws against excessive fumes or smoke. Now just what is excessive? Obviously anything that bothers others.

Excessive loud music has been reduced by the modern technology of headphones and earphones. It is increasingly rare now to be bothered by someone else listening to loud music. This is “best practices” in action for sound systems.

The same can be said for wood smoke. We now have cleaner methods for home heat. Natural gas has come down in price due to better extraction methods and no one needs to “smoke out neighbors” anymore. Programmable thermostats reduce costs. Geothermal systems are also constantly improving and coming down in cost. This is also “best practices” in action for home heating.