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EPA and Partners Bring Custom-Designed Cleaner-Burning Stoves to Navajo Homes

Published December 3, 2018

More than 60% of Navajo households use wood stoves for heat. The stoves are often very old, inefficient, and poorly vented, leading to high levels of indoor and outdoor air pollution and increased risk of fires. Because of the poor efficiency of these old stoves, many families are unable to maintain a warm home with wood alone and add large chunks of coal to the stove before going to bed at night. The pollutants in wood and coal smoke have been linked to respiratory and cardiovascular disease, cancer, and poor birth outcomes. Although cleaner-burning EPA-certified wood stoves are widely available, they are not designed to be used with coal, and therefore are not an option for homes that use both fuels.

This winter, researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder; the Navajo Nation EPA; Diné College; and EPA will assess the impacts of replacing old stoves with new, custom-designed stoves, monitoring air quality inside and outside of homes both before and after the old stove is replaced. In addition, researchers will evaluate whether stove replacement improves respiratory symptoms.

Over the past eight years, EPA and many partners have researched and designed a comprehensive stove replacement and home weatherization program that meets the needs of the Navajo Nation with a custom-designed stove, culturally-appropriate education and training, and funding for stove replacements and home weatherization.  With proper operation, the new custom-designed stove burns cleaner, reducing smoke indoors and out. The more efficient design helps keep the home warm even overnight and – coupled with home weatherization – may encourage many families to just use wood.

Under a Clean Air Act settlement agreement for the Four Corners Power Plant on the Navajo Nation, co-owners Arizona Public Service and Southern California Edison will spend $4.7 million to replace old stoves in Navajo homes with cleaner burning appliances (e.g., new EPA-certified stoves) and to weatherize homes. In preparation for the project, 43 Navajo contractors were trained by the Hearth, Patio, and Barbecue Education Foundation on safe stove installation, and the Navajo Nation EPA created an instructional video on stove operation for recipients.

The new “Navajo” stove was certified by EPA in December 2017 after undergoing emission testing by an EPA-accredited laboratory.  In addition, safety testing and user beta-testing was conducted. The first 24 stoves were installed in March 2018. Preliminary feedback from stove recipients points to fewer respiratory symptoms, less smoke, warmer homes, and the use of less wood and coal. The stove changeout project is currently accepting more applications from eligible households on the Navajo Nation and will run through 2022 or until funds are depleted. Priority is being given to homes with a veteran, child, elder, or person with breathing or heart conditions.

EPA would like to thank the many partners who have made this work possible: Shiprock Chapter President Duane “Chili” Yazzie; Navajo Nation EPA; Diné College; University of Colorado at Boulder; Woodstock Soapstone Stove company; US Stove Company; Arada Stove Company; Hearth, Patio, and BBQ Association and Education Foundation; Ferguson, Andors and Company; Arizona Public Service; and Southern California Edison.

Smoke Isn’t Good for You

The smoke from burning wood and coal is made up of very small particles and toxic gases. Exposure to the pollutants in smoke can cause a variety of health problems, ranging from burning eyes and a runny nose to aggravation of chronic heart and lung diseases (such as heart failure, ischemic heart disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma). Exposure to particle pollution is even linked to premature death. Smoke can affect everyone, but some people are at greater risk of serious health effects. These include people with heart or lung disease, older adults and children. In addition, some evidence links smoke exposure to adverse birth outcomes, such as low birthweight.

EPA’s Burn Wise program promotes the importance of burning the right wood, the right way, in the right appliance.