Burning & Breathing
Hazards and Alternatives to Open Burning
Story and photo by Sally Wagoner, Chair, Newaygo County Environmental Coalition
Who doesn’t love Fall with its crisp air and vibrant colors? You know the season is turning when you begin to see a haze in the neighborhood and detect the acrid smell of burning leaves. Get me my marshmallows!
But open burning of leaves and trash produce hazards that we should all be aware of, and make good decisions about.
The microscopic particles released with burning find their way into the deepest parts of our lungs, causing respiratory damage, disease and sometimes even cancer. The release of carbon monoxide from burning is dangerous to everyone, but especially to infants, children, the elderly and those with lung and heart problems.
“My yard, my trash, my problem!” some may say. But the smoke, hydrocarbons, irritants and poisons don’t stay neatly in your yard. They float all across our neighborhoods, woods and farmlands, swept by even the slightest breeze, ready to be breathed in by your kids playing football outside, your grandma with COPD sitting in her living room, and by the newborn coming home for the first time. This can jump start asthma in children, or make just the simple and essential act of breathing deadly for others.
Many people in rural Michigan heat with wood stoves, so there is already a greater amount of smoke and particles in our air. Aside from the necessity of keeping warm, the need for limiting what we burn, and how much of it, is great.
Trash burning especially produces a huge amount and variety of toxins. Plastic, rubber, foam, Styrofoam, chemically treated wood, textiles, electronics, chemicals or hazardous materials should never be burned at home.
Oh, and did we mention the potential for starting unintentional fires in our yards, homes or woods with open burning?
Burning Alternatives – Healthier Options
Here are a few ways we can “Ban the Burn”:
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