Henrico neighborhood at odds with neighbor's wood boiler

HENRICO, VA (WWBT) - Outdoor wood boilers are legal, but it's fueling hostility in one Henrico neighborhood, pitting one man at odds with his neighbors.

Morshedi Court is a community of 15 homes on six acres in Henrico. A group of neighbors say the smoke is hurting their health and damaging the quality of life.

"It just makes my lungs so I can't breathe," said Bart Alder. "It actually blows right into my front door. So, I just ripped my front door out and put a hermetically sealed door on there to stop it from coming in."

Group leader Thomas Tutor says the outdoor wood boiler is 80 feet from his home.

"I get woken up at night with heart races," said Tutor. "My heart starts racing. My eyes are very itchy and it's almost like breathing chalk dust inside the house."

Tutor says his firefighter neighbor, Ray Wills, first lit the wood boiler Valentine's Day 2011. The equipment resembles a shed with a smoke stack that burns wood to heat water or a water mixture that's piped underground to heat the home.

"I believe some of the statements have been exaggerated," said Wills.

"Sometimes you don't smell it, but you are affected by it. I feel it in my throat all the time," said Lucha Hogwood, who wants the burner shut down.

Wills says the concentration of pollutants is the same as burning a wood stove insert, which are regulated. Outdoor wood boilers are not. He says he's being as considerate as he can to reduce the smoke.

"I load it before sunrise. I load it after sunset. I only burn it for a very limited time during the year. There's nothing more I can do to reduce it," said Wills.

"What we really want is for the county to step up...set regulations for these, so if we do get this removed, that another neighbor won't put it in," said Tutor.

Tutor installed a camera trained on Wills' backyard, recording the smoke stack. He believes it puts out high-particulate pollution.

There's nothing illegal here, says Wills, and no ordinances against it.

"We're being demonized, I think, over this... made to feel very unwanted in this neighborhood, and part of it is because nobody came and talked to us," said Wills.

Right now, the group is consulting an environmental law firm about air quality testing. Residents are trying to get a public nuisance ban.

Both sides have gone before a special grand jury, but so far, Henrico County is not trying to shut it down. The state Department of Environmental Quality says it's small, doesn't need a permit, and doesn't violate any air quality standards.

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