Many people in rural areas in Minnesota still use on-site disposal methods like backyard burning to dispose of their household wastes. From burning waste in fire pits and woodstoves to the traditional burn barrel, 45% of rural Minnesota’s municipal solid waste (MSW) is still managed in this way. Did you know that burning garbage contributes to nearly half of all wildfires in Minnesota each year, contributes to food contamination on farms, and creates a potent carcinogen?
For most Minnesotans, it is against the law to burn or bury household wastes — it has been illegal since 1969. See the Minn. Statute 88.171: Open Burning Prohibitions for more details on this law. Some farmers are still allowed to burn their household wastes, due to the limited availability of collection or drop-off services for waste and recyclables.
However, even if you live in a county where burning household waste is still allowed, there are several reasons why you should choose to dispose of your waste in another manner.
Burning Garbage Releases Toxic Air Pollutants
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 are produced. Virtually all of the pollutants are released into the air and remain relatively close to ground level where they can be easily inhaled.
Burning household waste in a burn barrel produces carbon monoxide (CO), carbon dioxide (CO2), and nitrogen oxides (NOx). Smaller amounts of more poisonous chemicals are also 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.
One of the major environmental and health pollutants produced by residential garbage is dioxin. 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 #1 source of dioxin in the U.S. According to the Inventory of Sources of Dioxin in the U.S., March 2001, “just one burn barrel can produce as much or more than a full-scale municipal waste combustor burning 200 tons/day.”
Burn Barrel Reduction Campaign Grants, Mark Rust, MPCA
651-215-0198 or 800-657-3864