Open Burning: It’s Everyone’s Responsibility

When it comes to managing household waste, all too often, people think that burning their trash is an acceptable means of disposal. But, for Kentucky’s air quality, open burning is a significant source of complaints, emissions, and contributes to adverse health effects.

Figure 1: Example Burn Barrel

Open burning of waste is a combustion process and therefore emits the typical combustion pollutants of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, volatile organic compounds, sulfur dioxides, and oxides of nitrogen. However, because the combustion is not controlled it is often incomplete resulting in the formation of various hazardous air pollutants. Most Kentuckians don’t realize it but open burning is worse than the emissions from a properly permitted and operating full scale municipal waste combustion facility.

In fact, in terms of volatile organic compounds, one household that burns garbage is equivalent to 100 full scale municipal waste combustion facilities that are permitted to burn waste and have the appropriate control mechanisms in place to limit pollution. In addition to volatile organic compounds, open burning of garbage results in emissions of particulate matter and hazardous air pollutants, such as dioxins and furans.

Dioxin and furans are a close chemical relative to toxic herbicides and build up in the fatty tissue of humans and animals. This class of hazardous air pollutants can cause cancer and contribute to hormonal and reproductive problems. It only takes 1.5 households burning garbage to equal that of a one permitted municipal solid waste combustion facility for dioxins and furans. Households burning garbage increase exposure to these cancer causing chemicals (Lemieux, 1998).

The Kentucky Division for Air Quality, under 401 KAR 63:005, regulates open burning. This regulation authorizes open burning only under certain circumstances but specifically prohibits the burning of residential garbage. Campfires, barbecues, small fires for warmth, burning plant matter from clearing your own property and wood bonfires on festive occasions, are all legally allowed types of burning activities. It is illegal to burn tires and other rubber products; wire; treated, painted or finished wood; plastics; garbage; heavy oils; asphalt materials; building materials, especially those containing asbestos; paints; and agricultural and household chemicals.

Many Kentuckians think that open burning doesn’t affect you but, in actuality, it is a statewide problem. The maps show both open burning violations and complaints for 2012. There were over 400 open burning violations cited to 344 entities (institutions, business or residences) across Kentucky last year alone. Over 700 complaints were received by the division regarding open burning statewide. All complaints are investigated but not all complaints result in a notice of violation.

               Figure 2: Open Burning Complaints, 2012                                                     Figure 3: Open Burning Violations, 2012

Figure 2: Open Burning Complains, 2012Figure 3: Open Burning Violations, 2012

“These numbers illustrate that open burning affects almost every citizen,” said DAQ Director John Lyons. “Our staff work hard to regulate and enforce our open burning laws, but it’s everyone’s responsibility to become aware and do their part for cleaner air.”

The Kentucky Division for Air Quality encourages everyone to consider landfilling, reducing, reusing, and recycling, along with composting as alternative to open burning. The smoke from open burning has far reaching effects on our neighbors, children, and the elderly. Being a good neighbor means that every action can add up to cleaner air for Kentucky! To report an illegal open burn, call the Division for Air Quality at 1-888-BURN-LAW, or e-mail