Smoke From Restaurants


DATE: November 12, 2015

TO: Councillor Craig Kelley

FROM: Wilford O. Durbin

RE: Policies to protect neighbors from dangerous and noxious smoke produced by cook stoves in restaurants



Since the Shepherd Restaurant at 1 Shepherd St opened over the summer, neighboring residents have been complaining of noxious smoke emitted by the establishment’s wood burning cook stove. When the ovens are lit ahead of dinner service, the smoke forces residents to close their windows until closing to keep out odor and particulate matter produced by the kitchen’s cook stove. Citing concerns over the health of their children, the financial burden of buying expensive air purifying machines, a reducing in their quality of life, their inability to keep window’s open, and the need to constantly clean soot from walls and surfaces, several residents contacted the city to seek redress, but others have simply moved away.

Though the type of wood-fired cooking used by Shepherd and barbecue restaurants is not widespread throughout Cambridge, it is becoming more popular. In an article titled “New wave of urban barbecue joints sticks with the wood,” the Washington Post noted a growing interest in the “low-fi approach…of a craft-barbecue revival.” New restaurants using wood-burning cook stoves have appeared throughout New York, Philadelphia, Baltimore, and the District of Columbia. Ironically, the Post muses that restaurateurs on the East Coast shunned wood-fired stoves and ovens because “The laws were too strict. The fumes would bother residents in urban environs. The fire department wouldn’t approve.” But, the Post continued, “They were wrong. A good ventilation system takes care of the smoke problem. Top systems are designed with pinholes and scrubbers to catch and remove particulates.”[1] If the article is correct, the Greater Boston Area should prepare for more wood burning cook stoves, but it also suggests that requiring smoke-mitigating systems would does not totally discourage investment.


Health and Environmental Considerations


On March 10, 2015, the EPA proposed requirements for implementing the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS), which would regulate particle matter that is 10 micrometers or smaller in diameter. Primary particles, those particles 2.5 micrometers (referred to as PM2.5) or less and which are more easily inhaled deep into the lungs, are typically the type of particles emitted from smokestacks or fires. The proposed regulatory text would requires states to “identity, adopt, and implement control measures, including control technologies, on sources of direct PM2.5 emissions,” which would include wood smoke, and codify new PM2.5 standards. The previous 1997 primary annual PM2.5 of 15 micrograms per cubic meter (15 μg/m3) was revised to 12 μg/m3 in 2012.


According to the EPA, studies have shown a link between long-term exposure to fine particles to serious health problems, including premature death in people with heart or lung disease, nonfatal heart attacks, irregular heartbeat, aggravated asthma, and decreased lung function. Infants, children, and the elderly are more susceptible to particle pollution than adults.


Precedent for Action

Austin, Texas

The City of Austin Texas introduced a resolution earlier this year to mitigate near 24-hour smoke from barbecue establishments, but scuttled the proposal due to overwhelming public backlash. Residents of that city complained that while they support the city’s barbecue culture, constant smoke from restaurants, food trucks, and portable smokers had significantly diminished their quality of life and negatively impacted their health. Health and Human Services found over 54 establishments in Austin with a “smoker or a pit barbecue-type facility,” and that none of the locations used “any type of air scrubber.”[2]

The proposed ordinance sought to require “restaurants and mobile food vendors that utilize a wood or charcoal burning stove or grill located within 100 feet of the nearest [residential zoned property]…to take appropriate action to mitigate the impact of smoke emissions on the health and quality of life of surrounding residents by relocating smoke-emitting equipment” to a distance greater than 100 feet, or to install “smoke-mitigating devices.”[3] Despite initial support, the council unanimously defeated the resolution in August citing concerns about “overregulating and overburdening everybody else.”[4] Undeterred, residents around Terry Black’s Barbecue have filed a lawsuit against the restaurant for running smoke stacks 15 hours a day and causing health and breathing problems for neighbors.[5]


New York City

On May 6, 2015, the City Council and Mayor of New York City passed a sweeping overhaul of its Air Pollution Control Code (APCC) to update the 1970s regulations, and to incorporate developments to the EPA’s National Ambient Air Quality Standards. “Air pollution in New York City is a major concern, contributing to approximately 6% of all deaths,” a Committee on Environmental Protection report discussing the proposed overhaul began. “Fine particulate matter is small enough to become embedded deep within the lungs, and short-term exposure can exacerbate heart and respiratory problems such as asthma. Long term exposure to fine particulate matter has been linked to reduced lung function (SO2), chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and premature death,” the report stated, thus the city should attempt to reduce “fine particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, elemental carbon, and sulfur dioxide.”[6]

Introducing the overhaul, Council Member Donovan J. Richards sought to “limit emissions from certain unregulated sectors,” and specifically identified commercial char boilers and cooks stoves as “significant sources of particulate matter emissions, which can lead to health-related impacts, including an increase in asthma and lower respiratory symptoms.” The update targets other emissions sources such as chimney smoke, outdoor wood boilers, motorcycles, wood burning heaters, stationary generators, mobile food trucks, and idling cars.[7]

The new section stipulates in §24-149.5 (b) that “No person shall use a new cook stove for the preparation of food intended for on-site consumption or retail purchase without the use of an emission control device for odors, smoke and particulate matter that meets the requirements for such system as established by the rules of the department.” Restaurants must bring their existing cook stoves into compliance by January 1, 2020, presumably “to account for the increase in costs associated with retrofitting existing char broilers and cook stoves.”[8] The APCC defines cook stoves as “any wood fired or anthracite coal fired appliance used primarily for cooking food for onsite consumption at a food service establishment.”

Regulations on cook stoves are part of a broader initiative to limit or ban all sources of wood smoke in the city. Wood boilers must be located so as not to activate smoke detectors in adjoining property, impair visibility on any public way, or produces a “visible plume that comes into contact with a building on an adjacent property.” New Yorkers may not operate an existing fireplace as their “primary source of heat,” and all new fireplaces must operate “solely on natural gas or on renewable fuel.” Similar regulations also apply to wood burning heaters—they may not be used as a primary source of heat and it must use “renewable fuel.”



According to “Citizen Communication: The Health Effects of Wood Smoke,” a pamphlet by Environmental & Human Health, Inc. (North Haven, CT), several other states have taken action to mitigate the effects of wood smoke, though not necessarily from cook stoves. The Iowa Supreme Court in 1998 declared that government bodies could not explicitly permit burning that results in smoke crossing property lines. A Washington law states regulates smoke density, which can have no more than 20 percent opacity. Other states which have restricted wood burning regulations on high pollution days include Colorado, Utah, and Albuquerque, NM.

[1] Jim Shahin, “New wave of urban barbecue joints sticks with the wood,Washington Post, February 26, 2013.

[2] City Council of the City of Austin, Economic Opportunity Committee Meeting Transcript (May 11, 2015), 23.

[3] City Council of the City of Austin, Texas, “Approve a resolution initiating a code amendment to mitigate the effects of smoke emissions from restaurants and mobile food vendors near residentially zoned areas,” April 2, 2015.

[4] Alex Stockwell, “Austin City Council Votes Against Barbecue Smoke Ordinance,” Time Warner Cable News Austin, August 4, 2015.

[5]Residents File Lawsuit Against Terry Black’s Barbecue,” TWC News Austin, July 31, 2015.

[6] The New York City Council, “Committee on Environmental Protection Report” (April 23, 2014), 2.

[7] Donovan J. Richards to New York City Council, memorandum, “Reintroduce Int. No. 1160, in relation to the New York city air pollution control code,” April 10, 2014.

[8] Richards to New York City Council.

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