Burning your household garbage is dangerous to your health and our environment, and generally against the law in Montana.
If you’re still using a burn barrel, wood stove, or fire-pit for your trash, it’s time for a change. Stop burning your garbage.
Household burn barrels, fire pits, wood stoves, or similar homemade devices produce low-temperature fires. They receive very little oxygen and produce a lot of smoke. Under these conditions, a variety of toxic substances is produced.
Garbage has changed. Today’s household trash contains a lot of plastics and paper treated with chemicals, coatings, and inks.
Pollutants produced by backyard burning of trash are released primarily into the air and close to ground level where they are easily inhaled—with no pollution controls!
Burn barrel air emissions include carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides. Smaller amounts of more poisonous chemicals are commonly detected in the smoke: benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, polychlorinated dibenzodioxins (PCDDs or “dioxins”), polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDFs or “furans”), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), and heavy metals such as lead, mercury, and arsenic.
Smoke created by backyard garbage burning especially affects people with sensitive respiratory systems, as well as children and the elderly. Exposure to smoke can also increase the risk of heart disease, cause rashes, nausea, and headaches.
Among the environmental and health risks posed by residential garbage burning, dioxin is the key concern.
Dioxin is a potent human carcinogen that is especially harmful for pregnant women, children, and the elderly. Dioxin is also an endocrine disrupter and can cause reproductive, developmental, and immunological problems in humans and animals. U.S. EPA research shows that burn barrels are the number one source of dioxin in the U.S. Just one burn barrel can produce as much or more than a full-scale municipal waste combustor burning 200 tons/day. (“Inventory of Sources of Dioxin in the U.S.,” March 2001)
Several years ago our State Legislature enacted the Clean Air Act of Montana Title 75. Environmental Protection, Chapter 2. Air Quality “to achieve and maintain levels of air quality that will protect human health and safety and, to the greatest degree practicable, prevent injury to plant and animal life and property …”
The Administrative Rules that implement the Clean Air Act in relation the burning of household garbage are 17.8.604-Materials Prohibited from Open Burning and 17.8.326 Prohibited Materials for Wood or Coal Residential Stoves. If you are burning anything other than untreated wood or paper in your burn barrel or wood stove, you are probably in violation of State Rule and Law.
Everyone, in both Pondera and Teton County, has access to an approved solid waste disposal site and everyone has a responsibility to disposal of their garbage properly.
There are also recycling opportunities in some communities or neighboring communities. There is very good information on the Web about burning household garbage. I need to credit the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency Web site for information incorporated into this article including the following statement: “If you are burning garbage, you’re making poison.”
Editor’s note: This article was submitted by Corrine Rose, County Sanitarian. If you have any questions concerning this article, contact the DEQ, Air Resources Management Bureau at (406) 444-3490.