Spring a good time for servicing furnaces

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DEAR SUN SPOTS: It’s the time of year when people are thinking about cleaning their furnaces. It is also a good time to think about improving the efficiency of your furnace. Many old furnaces can benefit from a flame retention head. We had ours replaced, and the efficiency went from about 55 percent to 85 percent.

You don’t have to change the whole furnace to go green. Can you imagine how much oil would be saved if everyone’s furnace was 30 percent more efficient? — Lawrence Dudzic, Lewiston

ANSWER: According to online sources, this burner can improve energy efficiency, although Sun Spots didn’t find documentation for the numbers Mr. Dudzic quotes. Still it sounds like something worth looking into if you have an old, oil-greedy furnace.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: My furnace is 25-plus years old, and I would like to take advantage of the tax incentives that are available to get a new one. However, I would like the actual criteria in print so that I will have no surprises come tax season next year. Where can they be obtained? Thank you. — No Name, Rumford

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ANSWER: All the information you need is available at www.energystar.gov. You can print out whatever you need from there. If you don’t have Internet access, you could call the Internal Revenue Service and ask them to mail you the relevant information. They may be reached at 1-800-829-1040, Monday through Friday, 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.

DEAR SUN SPOTS: Please inform your faithful readers to be aware that Bisphenoil A, a chemical found in plastics, is now in our food supply. BPA acts as a hormone-disrupting chemical considered to be harmful to human health and the environment.

The Food and Drug Administration has now recognized that BPA is a potential health hazard, especially for children.

Any canned food with a white interior lining is covered in a plastic containing BPA. Recently I found this lining in cans of organic tomatoes certified by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. I purchased this product locally at a health food store. Are the organic tomatoes I purchased being poisoned by BPA with the blessing of the USDA?

Would you please elaborate further on this health hazard and what I can do to get this chemical out of our food? — Concerned Great-Grandmother, Lewiston

ANSWER: Your question coincided with a recent story in Time (“The Perils of Plastic,” http://tinyurl.com/y3r3652) about potential threats from different plastics, including BPA, that readers might find useful. As the story states, while scientists agree that there are harmful ingredients in BPA, there is disagreement about how much of those toxins one has to absorb before they are harmful to human beings.

The thinking used to be that they showed up in the body in such trace amounts that there was no threat, but that thinking is beginning to change. Unfortunately, changes in regulations are slow to follow. The Toxic Substances Control Act, which has governed chemicals for 34 years, doesn’t have the authority the government needs to obtain the required information from manufacturers, let alone ban the plastics.

The Obama administration is taking a closer look at chemicals, including a new investigation by the Environmental Protection Agency into BPA. In the meantime, people can protect themselves somewhat by limiting their use of any plastic with the number 7 on the bottom. Also, plastics are more likely to leach chemicals when heated, so you might want to avoid microwaving them or running them through the dishwasher.

Sun Spots does not know how you can avoid the plastic linings in cans, other than by avoiding buying canned goods altogether. The plastic lining does serve a purpose. Acidic foods, such as your tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables, can cause corrosion in the tin, and according to Wikipedia, there have been instances of people being sickened by absorbing the metal.

This column is for you, our readers. It is for your questions and comments. There are only two rules: You must write to the column and sign your name (we won’t use it if you ask us not to). Please include your phone number. Letters will not be returned or answered by mail, and telephone calls will not be accepted. Your letters will appear as quickly as space allows. Address them to Sun Spots, P.O. Box 4400, Lewiston, ME 04243-4400. Inquiries can also be e-mailed to sunspots@sunjournal.com.

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