Department of Environmental Conservation

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Don't Trash Our Air

Burning Trash Causes Pollution and Health Risks

Burning household trash, whether in an open pit, burn barrel or a wood stove, is illegal, unhealthy, unneighborly and unnecessary. It causes:

Smoldering Burnbarrel
  • serious health concerns and diseases,
  • wildfires,
  • contaminated soil; and
  • interference with the comfortable enjoyment of life or property.

What's Wrong with Burn Barrels?

Burn barrels smolder and temperatures rarely exceed 500 degrees Fahrenheit, which causes incomplete combustion and releases greater amounts of harmful chemicals into the air. Permitted incinerators operate at 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit to insure complete combustion, and they use efficient filters to reduce harmful emissions.

What's in the Smoke*?

Here are some of the air pollutants emitted by commonly burned materials and their potential health risks:

If you burn... it creates... which may cause...

Plastics, paper, pesticide containers,
petroleum products, styrofoam

Dioxins and furans immune suppressions, hormone system disruption, cancer
Plastics, petroleum products, styrofoam Benzene leukemia
Plastics, petroleum products Formaldehyde eye, nose and throat irritation, difficulty in breathing, skin rashes, cancer
Leaves Particulate matter respiratory problems, cardiac arrhythmia, heart attacks
Plastics, pesticide containers,
petroleum products
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons cancer
Plastic Hydrogen chloride corrosion to the eyes, skin, and mucous membranes, respiratory tract irritation and chronic bronchitis
Plastic, synthetic fibers Hydrogen cyanide neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, and thyroid disorders
Leaves Carbon monoxide reduction in the oxygen-carrying capacity of the blood
Treated wood Lead heart and kidney disease, brain damage, reduced fertility,
developmental disabilities
Batteries, treated wood Cadmium lung damage, kidney disease
Treated wood Arsenic gastrointestinal problems, anemia, kidney and liver disease, cancer
Batteries, treated wood Mercury nervous system and kidney damage
Batteries Chromium respiratory effects, cancer

* This is not a complete list of toxins.

Who is at Risk?

Everyone. People, pets, and wildlife who are exposed to smoke, especially those with heart and lung conditions, experience a variety of symptoms, including:

  • burning eyes and nose
  • coughing
  • nausea
  • headaches
  • dizziness
  • asthma attacks

The smoke from fires can also deposit chemicals on lawns, gardens, and soil, which exposes people to those chemicals by eating the fruit and vegetables grown near the trash fire or in garden soil tilled with the toxic ashes. Young children may be at greater risk than adults because of their playing behaviors, small size, and developing bodies.

Visit the Green Living page for tips on how you can make a positive impact on New York's environment.

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