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Attorney says manufacturer, retailer share blame for wood boiler pollution

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Posted: Wednesday, June 26, 2013 12:07 am | Updated: 5:22 am, Wed Jun 26, 2013.

FAIRBANKS — The attorney defending the owners of the hydronic wood boilers near Woodriver Elementary School in a lawsuit brought by the state said the manufacturers, distributors and retailers of the boilers should share responsibility.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation brought the lawsuit in January against Andrew and Gloria Straughn after receiving years of complaints about a pair of wood boilers at a rental property owned by the couple.

Their attorney, Michael Walleri, who took the case only because the Straughns agreed to remove the boilers, said it’s an opportunity to prove that more than just the homeowners are at fault for the air pollution.

“I basically joined because the issues are much larger than the Straughns,” he said.

A fellow attorney provided an update on the case to the borough’s Air Pollution Control Commission on Tuesday night. Walleri spoke with the News-Miner via telephone before the event.

He said the boilers, manufactured by Minnesota-based Central Boiler, are more problematic than the company and local dealers admit and the boilers have run against bans in other states.

The wood boilers at the Straughn property, which Walleri said were removed from the property, had stickers showing they complied with Environmental Protection Agency regulation, but Walleri claims in practice, they weren’t.

“They have been pushing these to people saying there is no problem,” he said. “These heaters have been banned in a number of states. ... We’ve asked to have the manufacturer and the retailer and distributor and the other people who have bought defective units and are polluting to join the lawsuit.”

He didn’t say the conduct of the companies absolved the defendants from responsibility for the smoke in the neighborhood, but said the state should take a strong role in attacking the issue of pollution at its source.

“Even if the Straughns have some fault in this, other people including the manufacturer, wholesaler and retailer knowing these products, they share fault,” he said. “Where is the state of Alaska in defending the people from snake oil salesmen who are coming up here and selling them defective products.”

Contact staff writer Matt Buxton at 459-7544 and follow him on Twitter: @FDNMpolitics.

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