Tips for Building a Cleaner Fire this Holiday Season

November 28, 2016

This holiday season, families and friends will gather around fires in woodstoves or fireplaces. But how you build that fire—and what you burn—can have a significant impact on air quality and health, both inside your home and out.

Whether you’re using a woodstove, pellet stove, or your fireplace, seeing smoke from your chimney means your fire isn’t burning as efficiently or cleanly as it could.

Wood smoke contains fine particles—also called fine particle pollution or PM2.5—which can harm the lungs, blood vessels, and heart. People with heart, vascular, or lung disease, and older adults and children are more at risk.

Here are some simple tips for building cleaner-burning fires this holiday season:

  • Burn only dry, seasoned wood. Wet, or green logs, create excessive smoke—and waste fuel. How do you tell if wood has been seasoned? Listen for a hollow sound when you strike two logs together.
  • Wood burns best when the moisture content is less than 20%. You can purchase a wood moisture meter to test the moisture content of your wood before you burn it. You can purchase these meters for as little as $20 at most home improvement retailers.
  • Start a small fire with dry kindling, then add a few pieces of wood. Be sure there’s space between the pieces of wood—and give the fire plenty of air until it’s roaring.
  • A smoldering fire, dirty glass doors on a wood stove, or smoke from the chimney are all signs that your fire needs more air—or the wood is too moist.
  • Never burn household garbage, cardboard, painted or treated wood, or any wood that contains glue, such as plywood or particleboard. These items release toxic chemicals when burned—and if you’re using a woodstove, they can damage it.
  • Check your air quality forecast on before you burn. Some local areas limit woodstove and fireplace use under certain air quality conditions.

If you heat your home with wood, using an EPA-certified wood stove can help you save wood while putting less smoke into the air. In January 2014, the agency proposed updates to its requirements for newly manufactured wood heaters that will make new woodstoves, outdoor wood boilers, and other wood heaters cleaner in the future.

Cleveland RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Cleveland, OH, on January 3–5 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Raleigh Area RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management: The Complete Course and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Cary, NC, on January 9–11 and save $100. If you ship dangerous goods by air, get your required training at Transportation of Dangerous Goods: Compliance with IATA Regulations on January 12. Ensure your facility is in compliance with EPCRA requirements at the SARA Title III Workshop on January 13. To take advantage of these offers, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Anaheim RCRA and DOT Training

Register for Hazardous Waste Management in California and DOT Hazardous Materials Training: The Complete Course in Anaheim, CA, on January 10–12 and save $100. To take advantage of this offer, click here or call 800-537-2372.

Maryland Commission on Climate Change Issues Annual Report

Maryland continues to make progress in meeting goals to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and in adapting and responding to climate change, a new report shows.

The report—unanimously approved by the independent Maryland Commission on Climate Change—also includes recommendations for continued progress in combating the effects of climate change. A bill signed into law earlier this year by Governor Larry Hogan requires that Maryland reduce statewide GHG emissions by 40% from 2006 levels by 2030 while continuing to have a net positive effect on both the economy and job creation in Maryland.

“An active agenda to reduce pollution and increase resiliency is good news for the state and the Chesapeake Bay,” said Ben Grumbles, Maryland Secretary of the Environment and Chairman of the Maryland Commission on Climate Change. “Many thanks to the diverse array of leaders on the Climate Commission for the continuing collaboration and commitment to sustainable solutions.”

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change is charged with advising the Governor and General Assembly on ways to mitigate the causes of, prepare for and adapt to the consequences of climate change and maintaining and strengthening the State’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Plan. Commission priorities include building broader partnerships with federal, State and local governments and the private sector to reduce GHG emissions and prepare for the likely impacts of climate change in Maryland, better communicating with and educating Marylanders about the urgency of the challenge and options to address it and establishing action plan goals and timetables for implementation.

The Commission, established in 2007, produced a plan that was the catalyst for the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reduction Act of 2009. The 2009 Act included a requirement that Maryland reduce statewide GHG emissions by 25% by 2020. Reduction estimates appear to show that Maryland is on the path to meet that 2020 goal.

In 2015, the Maryland General Assembly codified a Commission whose expanded membership has representatives from the administration, the legislature, business, non-profit organizations and local governments. The current co-chairs of the Commission are Anne Lindner, director of state government affairs Exelon and business community representative, and Stuart Clarke, executive director of the Town Creek Foundation.

The 2015 law requires the Commission to submit an annual report. Last year, the Commission unanimously adopted a report that called on Maryland to develop and implement a plan to reduce GHG emissions by 40% by 2030 while strengthening efforts to improve the State’s economy and create new jobs. Those recommendations formed the basis for the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Act of 2016. The Department of the Environment is working on a plan to meet those requirements. A draft plan is due in 2018 and a final plan is to follow in 2019.

The Commission’s 2016 annual report states: “In order to protect the State’s economy, the local environment, and the health of its citizens, Maryland must continue to strengthen its climate change mitigation and adaptation actions. At the same time, it is important to remember that climate change is a global problem, and Maryland programs and policies must be part of a larger climate action plan to be broadly effective at preventing many of the costs of unmitigated climate change to the State.”

Actions described in the 2016 annual report include:

  • Commission support for the Department of the Environment’s efforts to reduce methane emissions from landfills, natural gas infrastructure such as compressor stations and wastewater treatment plants. The Commission recommends further research into additional methane sources such as agriculture and fuel production and transport.
  • Commission support for the Department of the Environment’s efforts to develop to develop and implement stronger tools for analysis of social equity issues. This effort will include continued consultation with Maryland’s Commission on Environmental Justice and Sustainable Communities.
  • Commission work, with State agencies, to create and refine tools to help the State and local governments anticipate and plan for climate change impacts. An increased effort to support adaptation at the local level is a Commission priority for 2017.
  • Analysis of the potential impact of climate change on jobs and the economy within such sectors as agriculture, fisheries, tourism and energy.

New Interactive Map Makes Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System Permit Process Easier

The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has developed a new geospatial information system (GIS) mapping website to help local governments and other entities pursuing permits for municipal separate storm sewer systems (MS4s) to obtain information for their permit applications more easily.

Municipalities in an urbanized area (as determined by the latest Decennial Census by the U.S. Census Bureau) must obtain National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit coverage or a waiver for stormwater discharges from their MS4.

Small MS4s are required to develop and implement DEP-specified pollution reduction plans for most discharges to streams, rivers, lakes, and ponds that have been identified as impaired by the DEP Integrated Water Quality Monitoring and Assessment Report.

The new MS4 requirements GIS website gives municipalities with regulated small MS4s an interactive, georeferenced map that visually integrates urbanized areas, waterways flowing through and near those areas, and pollutant reduction responsibilities that municipalities may need to address for waterways that are impaired and receive stormwater discharges from their MS4s.

The new MS4 GIS website is a great supplement to the MS4 Requirements Table of the specific requirements for the MS4 application.

U. S. Steel Corporation to Pay $2.2 Million for Clean Air Act Violations in Three States

The United States, together with the states of Indiana and Illinois and the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, announced recently that U. S. Steel Corporation (U. S. Steel) has agreed to resolve Clean Air Act litigation initiated by the United States and the three states in August 2012, by undertaking measures to reduce pollution at its three Midwest iron and steel manufacturing plants in Gary, Indiana; Ecorse, Michigan; and Granite City, Illinois. As part of the agreement, U. S. Steel will perform seven supplemental environmental projects totaling $1.9 million, to protect human health and the environment in the communities affected by U. S. Steel’s pollution, including a project to remove lighting fixtures containing toxic chemicals in public schools. In addition, U. S. Steel will expend $800,000 for an environmentally beneficial project to remove contaminated transformers at its Gary and Ecorse facilities and pay a $2.2 million civil penalty. The agreement is memorialized in a consent decree lodged in federal district court in the Northern District of Indiana.

“Defendant U. S. Steel, a major global iron and steel manufacturer, has agreed to curtail significant pollution from its three Midwest plants,” said Assistant Attorney General John C. Cruden for the Justice Department’s Environment and Natural Resources Division. “This outstanding settlement, whose results will especially benefit the three environmental justice communities most closely affected by defendant’s pollution, is another example of how the Department of Justice, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and our state counterparts often work hand-in-hand to enforce our federal and state clean air act laws to protect the health and welfare of our citizens.”

“Today’s settlement protects communities in the Midwest from air pollution and puts important environmental projects to work,” said Assistant Administrator Cynthia Giles for EPA’s Office of Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. “Making sure companies comply with the law that protects clean air is an important way EPA safeguards the health of communities across the country.”

Under the consent decree, U. S. Steel will immediately repair, and later replace, a bell top on a blast furnace used for making molten iron at its Great Lakes Works facility in Ecorse. The bell top, through which raw materials are placed inside the furnace, has a worn seal that is causing increased emissions of hazardous pollutants and particulate matter. The new bell top is designed to eliminate those increased emissions. U. S. Steel will also implement improvements (following a third-party study) at its Great Lakes Works’ steel-making shop to reduce emissions causing opacity. At its Gary Works facility, U. S. Steel will repair a large opening in a metal shell that surrounds a blast furnace. The repair will eliminate excess emissions from that furnace.

Since 2008, U. S. Steel has worked with the state of Illinois to improve its environmental compliance at the Granite City Works facility, including installation of a new baghouse to control particulate matter and rebuilding its Electro-Static Precipitator. Under the consent decree, which resolves not only joint federal/state claims but also claims brought separately by the state of Illinois, U. S. Steel agrees to maintain the effective operation of its pollution control equipment and continue the work practices that have resulted in improved environmental compliance.

Many children in the Southwest Detroit, Ecorse and Gary areas attend schools that are lit by fluorescent ballasts that may contain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). As part of the settlement, U. S. Steel will conduct a joint federal/state supplemental environmental project (SEP) in which the company will remove and properly dispose of such PCB-contaminated ballasts and replace them with non-toxic, energy-efficient lighting. U. S. Steel will also conduct another SEP to install vegetative buffers composed of trees, bushes and shrubs on public lands near high-traffic roadways in Southwest Detroit. Such buffers are intended to reduce the transport of particulate matter emissions from heavily trafficked areas and thus improve downwind air quality.

“These measures to improve air quality in Southwest Detroit and Ecorse are an important step to helping communities who suffer the most from violations of laws designed to protect human health and the environment,” said U.S. Attorney Barbara L. McQuade for the Eastern District of Michigan.

“We welcome the settlement with U. S. Steel and look forward to the improvements to be made at its Ecorse facility, schools in Ecorse and Detroit and along high traffic roadways in Southwest Detroit,” said Director C. Heidi Grether of the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality. “More importantly, we welcome the improvement in the air quality of the region that we expect will come from these changes.”

In addition, U. S. Steel will purchase a new street sweeper, equipped with enhanced collection capability, for use by the city of Granite City to reduce dust emissions. Other SEPs, state-only, that U. S. Steel has agreed to undertake include the removal and proper disposal of waste tires that have been dumped at locations in Gary, replacement of some exterior doors in Granite City public schools with energy-efficient doors and creation of a greenway and transit bike trail within Granite City.

“Today’s consent decree should be welcome news to the residents of this district and everyone who lives in the greater St. Louis metropolitan area,” said U.S. Attorney Donald S. Boyce for the Southern District of Illinois. “Air pollution is a serious problem that continues to threaten our world, and we applaud U. S. Steel for its ongoing cooperation and the improvements it has agreed to make to bring its Granite City facility into full compliance. This office remains committed to enforcing the nation's environmental laws in the Southern District of Illinois."

“I applaud the united, collaborative effort by all parties who worked to resolve this matter and to hold accountable those responsible for polluting the environment,” said Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller. “No one should be subjected to living and working in a polluted environment.”

The recent settlement, lodged with the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Indiana, is subject to a 30-day public comment period following notification in the Federal Register and final approval by the court.

Nature’s Path Foods, USA Fined $22,000 for Discharging Acidic Wastewater

Nature’s Path Foods, USA, Inc., faces a $22,000 penalty from the Washington Department of Ecology for discharging acidic wastewater to the city of Blaine’s sewer treatment system.

Nature’s Path, which makes organic granola bars and cereals, operates under a water quality permit that requires pre-treatment of its wastewater before discharging to the sewer. Over the past two years, the company submitted discharge monitoring reports with a total of 39 permit limit violations, including low pH levels that cause acidic water.

Wastewater that does not comply with pH standards can damage or obstruct sewer lines, impair wastewater treatment operations, and create health hazards for sewer workers.

“The health of the environment is always a priority at Nature’s Path,” said Peter Dierx, vice president of operations at Nature’s Path. “We’ve recently made some operational changes which include sending wastewater to the city of Blaine’s new treatment plant, instead of transporting it off-site. We knew there would be a learning curve to ensure our wastewater met our permit’s pH limits. We will continue to work with Ecology and the city of Blaine to ensure we are compliant.”

In addition to the penalty, Ecology issued an order that requires Nature’s Path to comply with its permit-specified pH limits.

EPA Recognizes Outstanding Food Recovery Challenge Participants

The EPA recently recognized the accomplishments of 13 organizations and businesses participating in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge.

In 2015, more than 800 governments, businesses and organizations participated in EPA’s Food Recovery Challenge. Participants include organizations such as grocers, restaurants, educational institutions and sports and entertainment venues, who together kept more than 690,000 tons of food from being wasted. These efforts reduced carbon emissions equivalent to taking approximately 86,000 cars off the road for a year and saved businesses up to $35 million in avoided waste disposal fees.

“The waste reduction efforts of this year’s award winners, as well as all Food Recovery Challenge participants and endorsers, are leading the way for the United States to meet the national goal to cut food loss and waste in half by 2030,” said Mathy Stanislaus, Assistant Administrator for EPA’s Office of Land and Emergency Management. “These Food Recovery Challenge award winners are reducing food loss and waste within their communities to make America a healthier, more sustainable nation. They are leading by example and have reduced their climate footprint, helped communities and achieved cost savings by taking actions based on EPA’s Food Recovery Hierarchy and sustainable materials management best practices.”

In the United States, wasted food carries significant economic and environmental costs. Food accounts for the largest share of the municipal waste stream, with roughly 77 billion lb discarded each year. The estimated value of food that goes uneaten each year is $161.6 billion, costing the average family up to $1,500. Uneaten food and other organic materials in landfills decompose and generate methane, a significantly harmful greenhouse gas. Landfills are one of the largest sources of methane emissions produced from human activity.

To reduce their food waste, Food Recovery Challenge participants use creative practices such as:

  • Recovering food from farmers’ markets
  • Creating food waste volunteer programs in high schools
  • Giving college students the option to choose what goes on their plates
  • Using tools to improve portion control and meal forecasting
  • Adding infrastructure to more efficiently distribute perishable produce

EPA recognizes Food Recovery Challenge participants and endorsers with awards in two categories: data-driven and narrative. The data-driven award recipients achieved the highest percent increases in their sector comparing year to year data. Narrative award winners excelled in the areas of source reduction, leadership, innovation, education and outreach and endorsement. EPA is pleased to recognize the following 2016 Food Recovery Challenge national award winners:

Data-driven Improvement by Sector Winners:

  • Colleges and Universities: Ursinus College (Collegeville, Pennsylvania)
  • K-12 Schools: Lanikai School (Kailua, Hawaii)
  • Grocers: Sprouts Farmers Market – 205 (Claremont, California)
  • Restaurants and Food Service Providers: Goodkind (Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
  • Sports and Entertainment Venues: Chumash Casino Resort (Santa Ynez, California)
  • Hotels, Resorts, and Lodging: Ortega National Parks, LLC – Carlsbad Caverns Trading Company (Carlsbad, New Mexico)
  • Newcomer: Sprouts Farmers Market – 286 (La Habra, California)
  • Other Sector: Town of New Paltz (New Paltz, New York)

Narrative Category Winners:

  • Source Reduction: University of California, Davis (Davis, California)
  • Leadership: Sodexo (Gaithersburg, Maryland)
  • Innovation: Food Forward (Los Angeles, California)
  • Education and Outreach: Ramona High School (Ramona, California)
  • Endorsers: Northeast Recycling Council (Brattleboro, Vermont)

EPA Recognizes New England Institutions for Diverting Food Waste

A Vermont-based organization, the Northeast Recycling Council, was one of 13 organizations honored nationally by EPA for their work in keeping wasted food out of landfills and incinerators. The Northeast Recycling Council (NERC) won EPA's 2016 National Food Recovery Challenge Endorser Award for their food recovery outreach and technical assistance efforts to New England businesses.

EPA is also issuing "Food Recovery Challenge Regional Achievement Certificates" to 26 organizations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine, and is issuing a Regional Endorser Award to Vermont Agency of Natural Resources.

"EPA is proud to acknowledge the work and commitment shown by our New England Food Recovery Challenge awardees. These organizations are showing that protecting the environment, saving money and feeding the hungry can go hand in hand," said Curt Spalding, regional administrator of EPA's New England office. "It's true year-round, but especially important to keep in mind during the holidays when family and friends gather to enjoy celebratory meals, that our food should feed people and not landfills."

EPA is working to solve the wasted food problem and provide assistance to consumers, communities, organizations and businesses through our Sustainable Management of Food initiatives. The Food Recovery Challenge for which these organizations are being recognized is part of EPA's Sustainable Materials Management Program, which seeks to reduce the environmental impact of materials throughout its entire lifecycle. Organizations setting food waste reduction goals under the Food Recovery Challenge are helping to achieve the United States' first-ever national wasted food reduction goal of 50% reduction by 2030.

EPA is working with many partners to reduce wasted food and in 2015 EPA's Food Recovery Challenge participants diverted over 691,000 tons of wasted food from entering landfills or incinerators. Of this National total, almost 302,000 tons of food was donated to feed people in need. Since 2011, Food Recovery Challenge participants have reported diverting nearly 2.2 million tons of food through a variety of activities on the food recovery hierarchy.

EPA is also awarding a Regional Endorser Award to the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources for their creative partnerships and outreach to continue building awareness in Vermont residents, businesses, institutions and K-12 schools on the value of food. The collaboration between the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources and the Vermont Foodbank increased food rescue in 2016 by 40% while reducing the amount of wholesome food headed for disposal.

In New England, 54 Food Recovery Challenge participants diverted over 52,000 tons of food to donation and/or composting in 2015. EPA's Food Recovery Hierarchy is a tiered approach highlighting reduce wasted food first, then feed the people, feed the animals, followed by industrial uses for energy recovery and composting discouraging disposal to landfills or incinerators.

The following 26 New England organizations are receiving a "Regional Food Recovery Achievement Certificate" for their work reducing food waste:


  • Wesleyan University, Middletown
  • Whole Foods Market: Danbury, Fairfield and Darien


  • Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, Boston
  • Big Y, headquarters in Springfield
  • Boston College, Chestnut Hill
  • Boston Red Sox in Boston
  • Boston Medical Center in Boston
  • BJs Wholesale Club, headquarters in Westborough
  • Framingham State University, Framingham
  • Gillette Stadium, Foxborough
  • Lesley University, Cambridge
  • Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge
  • Massachusetts Maritime Academy, Buzzards Bay
  • Northeastern University, Boston
  • Salem State University, Salem
  • Saunders Hotel Group: The Lenox, Boston
  • Saunders Hotel Group: Comfort Inn & Suites, Revere
  • University of Massachusetts, Lowell
  • University of Massachusetts, Amherst
  • Wellesley College, Wellesley
  • Whole Foods Market: North Atlantic Region, Cambridge


  • Hannaford Supermarkets, headquarters in Scarborough
  • University of Southern Maine, Portland

New Hampshire:

  • Keene State College, Keene

Americans throw out more food than any other type of waste, accounting for 21% of the American waste stream. In 2013, 37 million tons of food waste were generated, of which only 1.84 million tons (5%) were recovered, resulting in 35 million tons going into the nation's landfills. Diverting food waste from landfills also reduces the generation of harmful gases that contribute to climate change. When food is disposed of in a landfill, it decomposes rapidly and become a significant source of methane, a potent GHG that contributes to climate change. Food and food scraps not fit for consumption can be used to feed the soil by composting or added to anaerobic digestion facilities, which produce biogas that can be used for energy.

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, 12.7% of American households were uncertain of having or unable to acquire enough food to meet the needs of all of their members at some time during 2015. In many cases, the food tossed into our nation's landfills is wholesome, edible food.

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Trivia Question of the Week

What is the dollar value of the food wasted in America on Thanksgiving?

a. $27 million

b. $77 million

c. $277 million

d. $720 million