NOVEMBER 2009

New regulation in effect for New York on open burning

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has expanded restrictions on the open burning of residential waste. The open burning of residential waste is now prohibited in all communities statewide, regardless of population, with exceptions for burning tree limbs and branches at limited times and other certain circumstances. Previously, the ban applied only in towns with populations of 20,000 or more.

Once considered harmless, recent studies demonstrate that open burning releases substantial amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air. A study by the United States Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the New York State Department of Health, found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than those from all other sources combined for the years 2002 through 2004. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers produce harmful chemicals when burned. The study found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead and hydrogen cyanide, among others.

In addition to releasing pollutants, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 – more than twice the next most-cited source. In 2006 alone, debris burning triggered 98 wildfires in the state.

Open burning of residential wastes in any city or village or in any town with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972. DEC moved to expand the prohibition to all communities after holding meetings to receive input from stakeholders and state agencies. A proposal was released in May 2008 and was followed up with public hearings and an extended public comment period. Approximately 1,800 comments were reviewed by DEC.