Health & Environmental Concerns Related to Burning

The practice of burning the family's garbage has been a tradition for generations of Minnesotans. Until a few decades ago, the practice was much less dangerous to your health, since most household garbage contained primarily paper, wood, and glass. However, modern garbage is a mix of plastics and other synthetics that release a hazardous mixture of carcinogens and other toxins when burned. Even seemingly harmless items, like white office paper and the lightweight-paperboard boxes, used for pop and frozen pizzas, can give off toxic emissions that can cause serious environmental and health problems.

Toxic Emissions
Burn barrel fire temperatures rarely exceed 500°F, far below the level for complete combustion, and lack filtration entirely; because of this they emit a much larger quantity of toxins and ash. For each pound of garbage burned in a burn barrel, twice as many furans, 17 times as much dioxin, and 40 times as much ash is given off compared to the emissions from the same pound of garbage burned in a resource recovery facility.

Besides ash (particulate), furans, dioxins, and other halogenated hydrocarbons, burn barrels give off high levels of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and heavy metals such as lead, arsenic, mercury, barium, chromium, and cadmium. Together, these chemicals can cause a wide variety of health problems, from mild irritation to chronic and deadly diseases. Most of these pollutants need not be directly inhaled from the smoke of burning garbage to be harmful; some of these toxins remain in the immediate vicinity and the area downwind of the burn barrel for decades. Other toxins in the ash and emissions gradually work their way into our ground water. This accumulation exposes you, your family, property and even future generations living on the same land to ever-increasing levels of hazardous substances.

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