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 all the parts of our ecosystem. Most air pollutants come from manufacturing industries, vehicles and burning oil, gas or coal. But many come from smaller-scale, everyday activities. Just a few small changes in routine habits can make a significant difference in the quality of the air you and your family breathe.

Clean Air at Home

  • Eliminate your burn barrel
    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. The pollutants found in burn barrel smoke can be harmful to people, animals and the environment. Here are other options for disposing of leaves. 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. If you have questions, please contact DEC's Division of Air at
  • 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. Also buy non-aerosol products such as deodorant rolls-ons, cooking oil instead of cooking spray, shaving soap instead of shaving cream, setting lotion or gel instead of hair spray.
  • 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 minimal.
  • 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. When you hear a click indicating the tank is full, don't "top it off." Remove the nozzle and screw your gas cap back on.
  • 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. See the "Gas Saving Tips" page for more ideas.
  • Clean diesel is not an oxymoron
    Newer clean diesel vehicles are up to 35% more efficient than vehicles with gas engines. And thanks to ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel, they are among the least polluting vehicles available.

Clean Air at Play

Photo looking up the trunk of a tree
Trees are essential to keeping
our air clean.
  • Be air quality aware
    Being active outside can be dangerous-especially for kids and seniors-if the ozone level is high. To check for daily advisories, go to the Air Quality Index Forecast page on this website or call 1-800-535-1345. Ozone can cause a variety of respiratory problems including coughing, shortness of breath, decreased lung function and increased susceptibility to respiratory infection.
  • Enjoy the clean 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?

More about Keep Air Clean:

  • Gas Saving Tips - How to get the most out of every gallon of gas,reduce greenhouse gases and air pollution.
  • 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