Department of Environmental Conservation

D E C banner

Keep Air Clean

Photo of a metropolitain skyline
Even cities can have clean air if we all
do our part

Clean air is vital to human health and the ecosystem. Most air pollutants come from manufacturing industries, vehicles and heating and cooling. But many come from everyday activities. Just a few small changes in our daily routine can make a significant difference in the quality of the air we breathe.

Clean Air at Home

  • Eliminate burn barrels
    Municipal waste incinerators operate at 1,800°F and use filters to reduce harmful emissions, but backyard burn barrels-which are now illegal-rarely exceed 500°F and release up to 40 times the amount of toxins and pollutants as permitted facilities. Especially bad are plastics, foils, batteries and chlorine-bleached paper. There are other options for leave disposal. Brush of a certain size may be burned (link leaves DEC website) in towns with populations under 20,000 but not between March 15 and May 15. Contact DEC's Division of Air at with questions.
  • Combat your neighbor's smoke
    Only clean, seasoned wood may be burned in outdoor wood boilers (OWB). In addition, new OWBs must meet setback and chimney height requirements. Here's what to do when smoke from a neighbor's OWB causes you problems.
  • Choose pump sprays instead of aerosol sprays
    Aerosols waste much of the product, spewing it into the air (and your lungs) instead of where you want it. Non-aerosol products include rolls-on deodorant, shaving soap, setting lotion or gel.
  • Refuel garden equipment carefully
    Spilled gasoline + sunlight and summer heat = pollution that irritates the lungs and causes smog. To avoid spills when refueling garden equipment, use a spout or funnel. Don't overfill. Tightly close the cap and store in a cool place, out of direct sunlight.
  • Use latex paints
    Oil-based paints contain solvents that evaporate easily and give off fumes. Water-based latex paint has better color retention and releases less pollution into the air.
  • Choose low VOC products
    Cleaning solvents, paints, stains and even personal care products can emit toxic or otherwise harmful fumes. Avoid such items whenever possible, especially in winter when ventilation to the outside is limited.
  • Check for fever with a digital thermometer
    If an old-fashioned thermometer breaks, mercury can evaporate to form a harmful vapor. Never throw products containing mercury in the trash. Contact local authorities for disposal programs.
  • Clean air grilling
    Natural gas-fired grills produce the least air pollution, but fans of charcoal grilling can still green their BBQ. Choose natural hardwood charcoal with high heat output and low ash. To heat coals, use a charcoal chimney starter and newspaper, thereby avoiding the fumes and dangers associated with lighter fluid.
  • Have your heating system checked and cleaned
    Oil-fired systems should be serviced every year; gas-fired systems should be serviced every three years. Regular maintenance increases the lifespan of heating systems, reducing heating costs and lowering particulate and carbon monoxide emissions.

Clean Air on the Road

A person about to pump gas
Don't top off your tank - it harms
your car's emissions system and
emits pollutants.
  • Gas up after dusk
    Refueling any motorized vehicle or appliance allows the escape of vapors that, on summer days, can lead to ozone formation. Simply waiting until dusk to refuel can reduce this phenomenon. Ozone damages crops, forests, structures, and human health.
  • Don't overfill your tank
    Topping off your gas tank after the pump automatically turns off can harm your vehicle's emissions system. Gas station pumps are designed to turn off at a fuel level that leaves room in the tank for the emissions system to operate correctly. If you smell gas while refueling, that means highly toxic substances are in the air.
  • Pump gas correctly
    Most gas pumps operate at three different speeds. If you make the effort to squeeze the pump only about a third of the way-the slow setting-you'll get fewer vapors and more gas for your money. Stop filling when you hear a click indicating the tank is full.
  • Drive smart
    Decreasing emissions from vehicles is key to keeping our air clean. Drive less by carpooling, combining trips, driving the speed limit and keep your vehicle in good running order.
  • Clean diesel is not an oxymoron
    Newer clean diesel vehicles are up to 35% more efficient than vehicles with gas engines. Thanks to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, they are among the least polluting vehicles available.
  • Gas saving tips
    • Driving habits make a difference: Avoiding jackrabbit starts and excessive brake use;
    • Combine errands;
    • Drive the speed limit or not over 55 mph (except to pass);
    • Make a green choice when buying a new car;
    • Good tire maintenance = better mileage. Consider buying "low rolling resistance" tires;
    • Check wheel alignment as misaligned wheels will increase fuel use;
    • Lose the weight: carry as little cargo weight as possible; discard garbage periodically;
    • Keep the engine tuned;
    • Don't idle for more than 30 seconds;
    • Ease off the gas paddle when approaching red light or stop sign.
Photo looking up the trunk of a tree
Trees are essential to keeping
our air clean.

Clean Air at Play

  • Check air quality
    Being active outside can be dangerous-especially for kids and seniors-if the ozone level is high. Go to Air Quality Index Forecast page or call 1-800-535-1345 for advisory. Ozone can cause respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, decreased lung function and increased susceptibility to respiratory infection.
  • Plant trees and enjoy the cleaner air
    Did you know that over a 40-year period, one tree will remove 600 pounds of carbon dioxide, a major greenhouse gas, from the air? Plant trees around your property and in the community.

  • Important Links
  • Contact for this Page
  • Office of Communication Services
    625 Broadway
    Albany, NY 12233-4500
    Send us an email
  • This Page Covers
  • Page applies to all NYS regions