For many Kentuckians, burning was just how you got rid of things in the old days. But times have changed, and so has the garbage we generate. When you burn garbage, you create toxic smoke that can endanger the health of you, your family and your neighbors. Burning that garbage is also illegal.
Kentucky’s open burning regulation has been around for years, yet many are still surprised to hear that burning garbage and many other materials is illegal. The regulation is aimed at protecting human health by preventing harmful emissions from open burning. It also outlines allowable open burning practices — activities like cooking, weed abatement, or fires set for disposal of natural growth from land clearing.
“Garbage doesn’t just disappear when it is burned,” said Division for Air Quality (DAQ) Director Sean Alteri. “Burning garbage emits dangerous pollutants into the atmosphere that are harmful to human health and the environment.” Dioxins, hydrochloric acid, formaldehyde, and heavy metals are just some of the toxic substances found in smoke from burned garbage.
Many of these pollutants – dioxins and heavy metals, for example – are relatively heavy and settle out of the air onto soil, plants and water, becoming part of the food chain. That means you could be eating those pollutants as well as breathing them.
State law prohibits the burning of many materials including plastic, tires, cans, coated wire, carpeting and food waste. In addition, the burning of trailers, buildings, and construction and demolition debris such as shingles, drywall and insulation is prohibited. Painted, stained or treated wood products like fence posts, pallets, and furniture are also illegal to burn, because they release dangerous toxins into the air. Illegal burning could result in fines of up to $25,000 per day per violation.
Boone, Boyd, Bullitt, Campbell, Kenton, and Oldham counties and a portion of Lawrence County face additional open burning restrictions during ozone season, which runs from May 1 through September 30. During these months, open burning of tree limbs and brush, land clearing, and household paper products is not permitted. Open burning is always restricted in Jefferson County.
DAQ has created an easy-to-understand brochure that summarizes allowable and restricted open burning. A PDF of the brochure is available here, or you can email firstname.lastname@example.org to request multiple copies of the brochure to be mailed to you. A Spanish-language version is also available.
To report illegal open burning or to learn more about open burning restrictions in your area, please call the Division for Air Quality at 502-564-3999 or visit air.ky.gov.