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First Fluoridated Water, Now Fireplaces: Everything's a Hazard in the NYT Home Section

Some truly goofy articles have appeared on the front of the Home section appealing to easily freaked-out liberal urbanites: Warnings over fluoridated water, celebrated a no impact couple living without toilet paper. On Thursday, the Times explored the environmental danger posed by fireplaces.
Some truly goofy articles have appeared on the front of the Home section appealing to easily freaked liberal urbanites. In May 2010, Penelope Green warned of the dangers of fluoridated water (a favorite target of the right-wing John Birch Society in the 1950s) and in March 2007 celebrated a "no impact" couple living without toilet paper.

The same urban environmental paranoia hangs over the lead story in the January 20 Home section, "A Love Affair Cools," which explores the dangers of fireplaces. The subhead to the story by Christina S.N. Lewis: "The fireplace, once a point of pride, is now seen as an environmental hazard."

She talked to a Manhattan couple who don't like the fact their lovely home has a fireplace, the husband saying "it's inefficient and it's polluting."

Hard as it may be to believe, the fireplace - long considered a trophy, particularly in a city like New York - is acquiring a social stigma. Among those who aspire to be environmentally responsible, it is joining the ranks of bottled water and big houses.

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Not surprisingly, the green community has been sounding the alarm for some time. For the last several years, TheDailyGreen.com, an online magazine, has advocated replacing all wood-burning fireplaces with electric ones; an article published in September by Shireen Qudosi, entitled "Breathe Easier With a Cleaner Fireplace," argued that there is no such thing as an environmentally responsible fire: "Switching out one type of wood for another is still use of a natural resource that otherwise could have been spared," Ms. Qudosi wrote. And last fall, an article on the Web site GreenBlizzard.com, "Cozy Winter Fires - Carbon Impact," called wood-burning fires "a direct pollutant to you, your family and your community."

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Certainly, there are many who consider this eco-overkill. In Greek mythology, fire is a gift from the divine, stolen from Zeus by Prometheus and handed over to shivering humanity. What could be more natural than sitting around a crackling fire on a winter night, at a campsite in the Berkshires or in a Brooklyn brownstone?

But growing concerns about the air pollution and health problems caused by smoke from wood fires are prompting a number of areas across the country to pass laws regulating them.

After admitting fireplace substitutes were unsatisfying, Wilson talked to a few more guilt-ridden fireplace users, and concluded:

Even the greenest of the green, though, sometimes throw caution to the winds when it comes to wood fires. Sue Duncan, a 52-year-old landscaper in Austin, Tex., uses native drought-tolerant plants in her landscaping work and hasn't thrown away an aluminum can since 1974, she said. She has installed a programmable thermostat and fluorescent lighting in her 1,600-square-foot house and has a rainwater collection system out back.

But somehow, she still hasn't gotten around to retrofitting her fireplace. Every time she builds a fire, it causes "inner conflict," she said. "It's a guilty pleasure."