In the past it was common to see burn barrels in everyone’s backyard. These barrels would produce some of the foulest smelling smoke that seemed to last forever. Today, most people have learned that open burning has negative consequences on our health, community and environment and have stopped burning garbage and other wastes. Seeking to prevent or reduce the occurrence of open burning, Ohio enacted tough laws that have substantial penalties for violating these regulations. Only in certain circumstances can someone burn wastes; however, there are several alternatives that are much better for your health and the environment.
Open burning garbage and other wastes produce toxic chemicals called, dioxins. According to the U.S. EPA, the burning of household garbage is one of the largest known sources of dioxins in the nation. Exposure to dioxins at low levels can be dangerous to your health. Certain cancers and developmental or reproductive disorders have been linked to dioxin exposure. These toxins are formed when products containing carbon and chlorine are burned. Most household waste contains these products. Smoke from burning household waste is likely to contain dioxins along with sulfur dioxide, lead, mercury, and other fine materials. Exposure to these harmful chemicals not only occurs when inhaled but also through the crops and animals we use for food. The ash or residue left by burning household waste will have the same toxic chemicals but even more concentrated.
Under Ohio’s open burning law, fires are restricted to certain circumstances. Campfires, barbeques and cookouts are allowed but never burn any kitchen waste or any materials made from petroleum, such as tires, car parts, plastics or plastic covered wire. It is also prohibited to burn dead animals, demolition debris and any wastes NOT generated on the premises which include tree trimmings brought in from another location. Stricter burning regulations exist when the fire is located inside or within 1,000-feet of any village or city limits. If the fire is located outside village limits and the waste is generated from the property, you may burn wood or paper products including tree trimmings, stumps, brush, leaves, etc. but the fire must be at least 1000-feet from a neighbor’s home and the smoke must not obscure the visibility of roadways, railroads or air fields. Other burning restrictions occur when there is a potential for the fire to spread or when air pollution warnings, alerts or emergencies are in effect.
There are several alternatives to burning waste. The most important one is to properly dispose of your garbage and solid waste through the use of a garbage collection service or to take the waste directly to an approved landfill or transfer station. There are several items in household waste that can be recycled such as magazines, cardboard, plastic bottles, cans, junk mail, pizza boxes and much more. There are several drop-off locations for recyclables within the county. Composting yard trimmings and food waste is a great alternative to burning because it produces a natural, free fertilizer that is helpful to vegetable or flower gardens. Repairing, selling or donating used items is also a way to reuse instead of burning. Finally, reduce the amount of waste you generate by avoiding easily, disposable stuff and buying durable, long lasting items.
For more information on open burning regulations, proper solid waste disposal, recycling programs and alternatives to burning, contact the Meigs County Health Department at 740-992-6626.
Steve Swatzel, RS, is the Director of Environmental Health at the Meigs County Health Department.