Hiking, camping and participating in sports increase as Iowans head outdoors to enjoy spring weather. We can help keep our air healthy for outdoor activities by choosing alternatives to burning. Here are five good reasons not to burn—especially trash, buildings and fall leaves.
1. Burning trash, leaves and other materials adds hazardous chemicals to our air.
Leaf and brush burning release carbon monoxide, particulate matter (smoke or soot), toxic chemicals and reactive gases. Burning trash is inefficient. Low temperatures, poor oxygen flow and lack of emission controls add toxins like vinyl chloride, heavy metals, dioxins and furans to the air.
2. Fires release particulate matter—tiny, but a powerful health risk.
The minute size of soot particles—roughly the thickness of a human red blood cell—allows them to lodge in lung tissue. Particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in size contributes to premature death, affects people with heart conditions and can trigger asthma attacks.
3. Chemicals in the air land somewhere.
Today’s waste is filled with toxic chemicals that weren’t around 50 or 60 years ago. While burning seems like a cheap, easy way to dispose of waste, once pollutants go airborne, there is no way to prevent them from landing on crops and water sources. Some pollutants last for many years and their concentration levels increase as they move up the food chain.
4. Runaway fires.
Even in wet years, fires can get away from you. From a little campfire to leaf burning in the backyard, a few escaping sparks can create a wild fire, burning your lawn or a neighbor’s field. Dry conditions and windy days add fuel to the fire. Check with the State Fire Marshal’s office for countywide burn bans.
5. It’s likely illegal.
Check local laws. Some cities and counties have banned open burning and leaf burning. State laws require recycling. If you can recycle plastics, metals and paper products locally, you cannot legally burn them. There are open burning exceptions—like recreational fires and some landscape waste. But some items cannot be legally burned: tires, asbestos-containing materials, asphalt, railroad ties, etc. See the Open Burning fact sheet for more information.
6. There are alternatives.
Many communities offer curbside recycling or redemption centers. Some communities pick up landscape waste and grass clippings. Home composting can improve soil quality, adding organic matter and water-holding capacity to soil. See a composting tutorial. For more ideas, check out composting information. The same page can help you safely dispose of hazardous materials such as lithium-ion batteries. EPA offers Burn Wise tips on best burn practices, recreational fires and protecting yourself from wood smoke.
Take a leaf from EPA and Iowa DNR—if you decide to burn—burn cleanly, safely, responsibly and legally.