In an effort to reduce the impacts of pollutants such as dioxins, particulate matter and carbon monoxide and to limit the risks of wildfires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) is proposing to extend the ban on open burning statewide.
Open burning of residential wastes in any city or village, or in any town with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972.
Once considered harmless, open burning has been found to release more dangerous chemicals into the air than thought generations ago. A recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the State Department of Health, found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than all other sources combined for the years 2002-04. The study also found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide and other harmful chemicals. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers can produce harmful chemicals when burned.
In addition to releasing pollutants, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 – more than twice the next most-cited source. In 2006 alone, debris burning triggered 98 wildfires in the state.
“This is a public health and safety issue,” said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “The trash we are burning has become more complicated and damaging to air quality over the decades. From dioxins to furans to arsenic, numerous toxic chemicals can be released by open burning – worries we didn’t have several decades ago. Moreover, wildfires occur regularly from badly tended open fires. This proposal will reduce the chances of that happening.”
The proposed rule does allow for a number of exceptions, including camp fires, prescribed burns, celebratory bonfires (where allowed), fire training exercises, specialized burning to protect crops from frostbite and burning of agricultural wastes (though not agricultural plastics). The state will conduct a series of public hearings on the proposal (schedule below).
Prior to releasing the proposal, DEC held meetings and received input from stakeholders and state agencies.
The proposal has won backing from environmental and health groups and the Firemen’s Association of New York State (FASNY).
“Limiting the amount of open burning is a win for the lungs of New Yorkers,” said Michael Seilback, Senior Director of Public Policy & Advocacy for the American Lung Association of New York State. “According to the 2008 American Lung Association State of the Air report, residents of all regions of the state are breathing air with dangerously high levels of both particulate matter and ozone, and reducing the amount of open burning will have a positive impact for those suffering from asthma and lung diseases.”
“Our main concern is the safety aspect of the open burn process,” said Michael Wutz, FASNY president. “But there are other concerns too. Burn barrels can cause smoke, and that triggers fire responders, which can overtax personnel. Also, open burning of household solid waste has been proven to also generate toxic pollution that undeniably contributes to public health risks.”
Public Hearings on the proposed rule change will be held as follows:
Monday, June 23, 2008, 5-8 p.m. Cortlandville Fire Department, 999 Route 13, Cortland, NY 13045
Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 5-8 p.m. Norrie Point Environmental Center, Margaret Lewis Norrie State Park, 256 Norrie Point Way, Staatsburg, NY 12580
Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 9:30 a.m. - Noon. DEC Central Office, 625 Broadway, Public Assembly Room 129, Albany, NY 12233
Wednesday, June 25, 2008, 5-8 p.m. DEC Central Office, 625 Broadway, Public Assembly Room 129, Albany, NY 12233
Thursday, June 26, 2008, 5-8 p.m. Harrietstown Town Hall, Main Street and Lake Flower Avenue, Saranac Lake, NY 12983
Monday, June 30, 2008, 5-8 p.m. Dulles State Office Building, 1st Floor Auditorium, 317 Washington Street, Watertown, NY 13601
Wednesday, July 2, 2008, 5-8 p.m. Genesee Community College, College Drive, Conable Technology Building, Room T102, Batavia, NY 14020
The proposed regulations are published in today's issue of the State Register and the public may provide comments during the formal 45-day comment period that begins with publication in the Register.
To read the proposal, go to www.dec.ny.gov and select “Proposed Regulations” from the left column and find the proposal on open burning. This will provide links to send written e-mail comments. Or, comments can be mailed to: NYSDEC, Division of Air Resources, Attention: Robert Stanton, 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-3254.
For more information on the dangers associated with open burning, visit the DEC website at http://www.dec.ny.gov/public/32064.html .