As the weather turns brisker and we’re reminded that dumpings of winter snowfall are just around the corner for the Salt Lake Valley and its surrounding mountainous terrain, we’ll imagine being curled up under a blanket with a cup of herbal tea reading a good book or watching a film beside a crackling fire. Except that the fantasy of a fire might have to go, lest we incur lawsuits, as a family in Morgan has recently warned. While a Salt Lake City injury attorney probably wouldn’t advise you to forego that chord of firewood, he might counsel you to be careful how and when you light up that wood-burning stove.
The “waking nightmare” that Morgan residents Martha and Clayton Ericson and their four children experienced was due to their neighbor’s outdoor wood-fired boiler that polluted their air quality and became “harmful to their physical and emotional health,” according to the lawsuit filed by their own Salt Lake City injury attorney. “The smoke is killing us,” Ericson testified in court when the case went to trial last week. Because even after Ericson confronted his neighbor about the smoke, the neighbor continued burning, “even allegedly stuffing trash and construction waste into the outdoor boiler,” Ericson and his family felt compelled to sue.
As the Salt Lake Tribune reports, this lawsuit isn’t just one isolated instance of disgruntled neighbors: “it underscores a growing concern for state air quality managers.” And while a Salt Lake City injury attorney isn’t likely to represent the state against multiple owners of wood-fired boilers, there are apparently around 150 heavy-polluting boilers in operation in Utah, and regulators have“clamped down on their installation.”
Whatever the ruling on the Morgan case is, however, may have serious implications for Utah residents who continue to use wood to heat their homes: “If neighbors in a rural community can turn on each other over a polluting home heating system, some wonder if wood-burning stoves and fireplaces in an urban neighborhood” might be next on the list of cases for a Salt Lake City injury attorney like Cory Hundley. With the plight of poor air quality on inverted winter days throughout the Salt Lake Valley, smoke from residential wood burning may face increasing lawsuits or an eventual ban altogether.
Hundley and other Utah lawyers expect so, especially with clean-air activists like Brian Moench joining the lawsuits as expert witnesses and testifying that wood smoke is heavy in chemical pollutants and should be greatly reduced or eliminated from Utahns lifestyles. But valley residents aren’t likely to be willing to give up their fireplaces yet. Not only are wood-burning stoves effective at heating entire homes, they do so relatively cheaply with locally sourced fuel. Even while natural gas is less polluting, the affinity for self-sustaining homes in Utah has led to increased use of wood-burning heat sources.
The conflict between the Morgan neighbors is only one incident of a growing number of concerns against wood-burning stoves in the Salt Lake Valley, and it portends increasingly probable tensions and more lawsuits in the future.