"Time to Stop Backyard Burning" says NY Legislative Commission on Solid Waste
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News From Assemblymember William Colton

Chair, Legislative Commission on Solid Waste Management

4 Empire State Plaza, 5th Floor, Albany, NY 12248 • (518) 455-3711


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Time to Stop Backyard Burning


Assemblymember Colton has joined Assemblymember David Koon, Chair of the Legislative Commission on Toxic Substances and Hazardous Wastes, to introduce legislation to ban the burning of household wastes. The bill (A 7202, KOON, COLTON, ENGLEBRIGHT, JOHN, DINAPOLI, DINOWITZ, ESPAILLAT, HOYT, M. Cohen) prohibits the open burning of solid waste in New York (with certain exemptions for agriculture. The bill allows municipalities to enact local ordinances which are more restrictive. The Department of Environmental Conservation promulgated regulations (6NYCRR Part 215) to allow open burning in towns (not villages or cities) of under 20,000 people.


According to the paper "Confronting the Problems of Backyard Burning in the Northeast: The Case of New York", a 1998 unpublished report by Dr. David R. Lighthall, Colgate University and Steven Kopecky, Pennsylvania State University, changes in the chemical composition of the waste stream have contributed to an increase in the health risks of backyard burning. Increased volume of wastes produced by households and a higher proportion of synthetic chemicals, particularly plastics from packaging, have increased the risks of open burning. Incomplete combustion and low temperatures are characteristic of burn barrels, which can result in the formation of dioxins and furans.

The impacts of open burning far surpass those caused by other disposal methods. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), in cooperation with the NYS Departments of Health and Environmental Conservation, reported that average polychlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins and polychlorinated dibenzofurans (PCDDs/PCDFs) from burning 50-900 pounds of household waste in burn barrels are equivalent to those from burning 400,000 pounds of household waste in a modern, well-controlled incinerator. Other emissions from open burning include carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, benzene, formaldehyde, chromium, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and hydrogen cyanide.

The primary exposure pathways from backyard burning and their associated toxins include direct inhalation of VOCs and particulates, ingestion of metals that have been absorbed by plants, ingestion of contaminated soil by children and ingestion of organochlorine compounds that have bioaccumulated in fatty tissues of animals.

"...changes in the chemical composition of the waste stream have contributed to an increase in the health risks of backyard burning."

Acute or short term impacts from inhalation of these emissions include respiratory distress and breathing difficulties.

Most recently, the EPA has now found that dioxin is ten times more likely to cause cancer in humans than they previously estimated. Dioxin has been classified as a known human carcinogen. There is a growing evidence that organochlorine compounds are at least partially responsible for the increased incidence of breast and prostate cancer in the US EPA has also found that dioxin has the potential to negatively affect human metabolism, and the development of reproductive systems at average exposures. At higher than average exposures, endometriosis, demasculinization, birth defects, cardiovascular disease, hypertension, miscarriage and infant death, low birth weight and growth retardation may occur.

There is solid support for this legislation, including the NYS Conference of Mayors, the NYS Association of Counties, the Department of Environmental Conservation, the NYS Association of Towns, the NYS Solid Waste Management Association, the American Lung Association, the NYS Association of Firefighters and others. Assemblymembers Colton, Koon and Englebright are committed to achieving passage of legislation this year to finally end this damaging practice.

The Assembly unanimously passed A 7202 on April 23, 2001. The Assembly is now working with Senator Maziarz, sponsor of S 3772, for passage of this important legislation in the Senate.