One of the things people do to dispose of certain items is to burn them, but this could cause some environmental and health impacts if you burn the wrong things. Smoke can carry harmful pollutants which can harm the air that we breathe. When you burn any type of item it will leave behind ash which gets carried off through the air and can pollute the soil, groundwater, river, lakes and streams. Burning anything outdoors can cause a wildfire if not doing it safely. Burning only approved materials and following state regulations can minimize the potential for these harmful effects.
When household waste, wood and leaves, are burned, they produce smoke, which contains vapors and particulate matter. Air pollution from smoke can impact human health. Burning prohibited materials, such as garbage, plastic and painted or treated wood, is harmful to the environment because these materials release toxic chemicals that pollute our air which travels within the smoke. Polluted air can be inhaled by humans and animals, and deposited in the soil and surface water and on plants. Residue from burning contaminates the soil and groundwater and can enter the human food chain through crops and livestock. In addition, certain chemicals released by burning can accumulate in the fats of animals and then in humans as we consume meat, fish and dairy products.
Any kind of fire will produce some kind of ash waste. While ash from wood contains some nutrients required by plants for healthy growth but ash can be harmful for our lakes, ponds and rivers. Ash contains phosphorous, potassium and trace amounts of micro-nutrients which can disrupt the delicate ecosystems of water bodies. For example, phosphorus is a powerful growth agent that stimulates algae growth in water bodies. As important as some algae is to the natural food chain, too much algae can result in the formation of scum, foul odors, low oxygen in the water and offensive views. When burning clean items like brush, leaves, tree limbs or clean scrap wood, avoid burning near a waterway shoreline. Burning along a shoreline kills vegetation and changes the soil structure, with the end result being more soil erosion into the body of water. Ash can impact human health through the leaching of heavy metals and other potentially toxic compounds that can end up in streams, lakes and rivers, or in drinking water supplies and our food chain.
Debris burning is the number one cause of wildfires in Ohio and accounts for thousands of acres of forested land unintentionally burned, and hundreds of structures threatened every year. Unplanned fires pose a serious threat to public safety, property and our natural resources. If a fire escapes your control, never try to suppress the fire yourself. Dial 911 immediately. Uncontrolled wildfires can be dangerous for both those responsible for or immediately impacted by the fire, as well as emergency responders, who are forced to engage in high-risk suppression efforts that may compromise their health and safety.
In Ohio, open burning is prohibited in March, April, May, October and November between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., according to the Ohio Division of Forestry.
For more information regarding open burning you can go to Ohio EPA’s website, Ohio Division of Forestry Website or call the Meigs County Health Department at (740)992-6626.
Daschle Facemyer is a sanitarian in training at the Meigs County Health Department.