Christine Stuart photo

Beth Terra of New Hartford said she rarely lets her three children play outside now that the smoke from her neighbor’s wood-burning furnace has affected their health.

From sore throats, coughs, and headaches, Terra said sometimes it’s so bad that they have to leave their home.

And Terra isn’t alone. Rose Bernabucci, 80, of North Haven said that when the smoke from her neighbor’s wood stove seeps into her home, her heart starts to palpitate. She said she has twice thought she was having a heart attack.

“Aren’t we entitled to breathe clean air,” she said after explaining that she sometimes watches television wearing a mask and with an air purifier nearby.

A tearful Bernabucci said she’s lived in her home for 35 years and was considering moving because of the wood smoke. “I don’t want to move,” she said.

What she does want is the state legislature to add wood smoke to the public nuisance code so that local health departments can investigate complaints.

Christine Stuart photo

Leslie Balch, director of the Quinnipiack Valley Health District said her office has responded to at least five wood smoke complaints over the past two years. She said it was frustrating to investigate the complaint, observe the conditions which are known to be detrimental to health, and not be able to do anything about it.

She said under the public health code she is able to determine if a public nuisance exists when a complaint includes rodents, stagnant water, and garbage.

“I believe certain conditions of wood smoke emissions also need to be regulated,” she said.

She said she didn’t think it would be a burden to investigate wood smoke complaints, in addition to all of her other responsibilities.

David Brown, a public health toxicologist for Environment and Human Health Inc., said components of wood smoke and cigarette smoke are quite similar, and many components of both are carcinogenic.

He said when the wood smoke enters the home it can stay for 6 to 9 hours.

Bernabucci and Terra are amongst the dozens testifying in front of the legislature’s Public Health Committee in favor of this bill.

Nancy Alderman of Environment and Human Health Inc. said she expects there will be opposition to the bill, but wants to make sure lawmakers understand how narrowly the law would be applied.

She said wood smoke could only be considered a nuisance when it continually enters someone’s home. Each case would be investigated by the local health departments which would be responsible for assessing the situation.