Ban On Open Waste Burning Takes Effect Today

Advocates Praise Health and Environmental Benefits

(October 14, 2009)

Public health experts and environmental health advocates praised the start of a new statewide ban on open burning of residential waste in New York.  Starting today, burning trash in outdoor burn barrels or open pits will be prohibited in all communities statewide, regardless of population.  The new regulations contain limited exceptions for certain activities such as brush burning, campfires, and cooking fires.

Health advocates, environmentalists, and concerned citizens have been advocating for this measure for years in New York.  While open burning of residential wastes in any municipality with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972, it has been a common practice in many less-densely populated, rural parts of the state.

According to the EPA, open burning of household waste is the major uncontrolled source of dioxin, a potent human carcinogen, in our environment.   Today's household waste contains a mix of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) and other types of plastics, treated wood, bleached and colored paper, and hazardous materials such as batteries.  Burning mixed residential trash in outdoor burn barrels releases a wide variety of toxic chemicals, including dioxins, furans, arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, and hydrogen cyanide.  These chemicals are unsafe to breathe and can contaminate food supplies.   In addition, according to the DEC, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State.

"The greatest source of dioxin exposure in New York today is the dioxin that is formed from back-yard burn barrels," said Dr. David Carpenter, Director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at the University at Albany.  "Dioxin is a proven human carcinogen, and also increases the risk of a number of other diseases, including heart disease, diabetes and altered endocrine function.  It is a major advance to ban back-yard burning in New York."

"I believe this is a step forward in environmental safety where a state is moving more rapidly than EPA," said Dr. Arnold Schecter, Professor of Environmental Sciences at the University of Texas School of Public Health.  "EPA has done a good job of decreasing dioxins in the environment and in people. But open garbage burning has now become a major source of dioxins in the environment as other sources are decreasing. Dioxin levels in Americans are now much lower than a few decades ago, which is progress such as we have seen with lead levels from a different public health campaign. It is hoped that government regulations and enforcement of regulations will continue in a timely fashion to decrease the amounts of toxic and persistent chemicals in the environment."

"We have known for many years that open burning of garbage releases toxic fumes and poses a serious fire hazard," said Laura Haight, NYPIRG's senior environmental associate.  "This is a long-overdue public health intervention, and we applaud Commissioner Grannis and his department for taking this critically important step.  We look forward to working with state agencies to make sure that the new program is adequately enforced."

Don Hassig, Director of Cancer Action NY and Cancer Action Network radio producer stated.  "Honor to the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.  The NYS DEC regulation banning open waste burning statewide is of great importance to all people who consume foods containing animal fat, including:  dairy products, meats and eggs.  Current levels of dioxins in these foods impose a significant amount of cancer risk on consumers.  Due to the fact that open waste burning is considered by US EPA to be the largest source of dioxin releases to the environment, a burning ban is essential to accomplishing reductions in the quantities of dioxins in the food supply.  Hopefully, DEC will follow up with a very vigorous enforcement effort.  Additionally, we believe that the department should create a program for funding public education on the health damaging effects of exposure to dioxins and the open waste burning dioxin source."

"People living in all communities across the state will now be able to breathe air that is free from contaminants that are the byproducts of open fires," said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York.  "On behalf of the many New Yorkers who struggle to breathe every day, the Lung Association thanks and commends Commissioner Grannis and the DEC for adopting these new regulations.  A statewide ban on open burning affords more New Yorkers the opportunity to breathe cleaner air and enjoy better health."

"The Breast Cancer Network of Western New York, Inc. supports  regulatory action on dioxins in food and the banning of open waste burning--a contributor to dioxins in the environment and dioxin-exposure cancer risk," said  Alice Grey, President of the BCNWNY.  "We encourage using only organic dairy products, meat and eggs."

"New York's new regulations to address toxic pollution from burn barrels is a breath of fresh air for New Yorkers across the state, from Long Island to Niagara Falls," said Mike Schade, PVC Campaign Coordinator for the Center for Health, Environment & Justice (CHEJ).  "Open burning of solid waste, which contains PVC plastic, is a major source of dioxin air emissions and dioxin-laden ash, as well as other dangerous pollutants.  Dioxins can cause cancer, and exposure has been linked to learning disabilities, birth defects, endometriosis and diabetes."

"Garbage burning is a source of dioxin and other persistent bioaccumulative toxins," said Barbara Warren, Executive Director, Citizens' Environmental Coalition. "Eliminating this source of harmful contamination is great news for New York's environment.  Future steps for NY include getting toxics out of products and packaging, and promoting reuse, recycling and composting."

"Environmental Advocates of New York commends the Department of Environmental Conservation for finalizing the state's new open burning regulations. This rule will result in immediate, on-the-ground improvements in air quality, as the open burning of household waste spews volumes of toxics into our air. Millions of New Yorkers will breathe easier with this rule on the books," said Jackson Morris, Air & Energy Program Director for Environmental Advocates of New York.

"At last!  While the health risks of burn barrels have been known for years the NYS Department of Health was shamelessly unresponsive," said Ellen Connett, Fluoride Action Network.  "This ban should give impetus to the necessity of passing state legislation to incorporate the Precautionary Principle in all issues pertaining to health and environment.  There is a great need for easy access to collection centers in rural areas for all materials than can be recycled, composted or reused, and for known toxic materials that should not be allowed to re-enter our shared environment."

Erik Miller, Executive Director of the Otsego County Conservation Association states:

"Our organization congratulates the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation for producing a regulation for the control of outdoor burning.  A regulation banning trash burning is long overdue.  This regulation will give support to those whose health has been put at risk by toxic smoke for many years.  OCCA is pleased to have been a part of the education process and hopes that, with this new regulation, outdoor burning will be a defunct practice.    OCCA will continue its public education efforts on proper disposal methods and will also encourage reuse, recycling, and composting of materials whenever possible." 

"The Otsego County Burn Barrel Education Committee is pleased to hear of the enactment of a state regulation that bans the burning of garbage in backyard fires.  We have been educating residents of Otsego County since our creation in 2000 and will continue, but it is finally good to have a regulation that can be enforced to help eliminate this detrimental practice.  This will go a long way to improve both environmental and human health impacts throughout NY State."  Susan O'Handley and Martha Clarvoe – Co-chairs of the Otsego County Burn Barrel Education Committee

High breast cancer rates on Long Island have been tied to environmental pollution.  Part of the problem stems from dioxin exposure that takes place by way of consumption of animal fats that are contaminated with dioxins released into the atmosphere by open waste burning and other dioxin sources.  Peter Maniscalco, a long-time Long Island environmental advocate who has been challenged by prostate cancer since 2001 said:  "In our hope to bring about changes that will lead to greatly reduced levels of this disease, I encourage Long Islanders to join together with Cancer Action NY in the effort to accomplish the elimination of open waste burning in New York State."

Robin McLellan, a long-time New York State environmental activist states, "This ban is a long overdue relief. We've known about the problem of dioxins and dibenzofurans in burn barrels for 20 years. People who say, 'My family has been doing it for generations,' forget that the amount of plastic they burned in the 60's was minimal compared to today. Shopping bags were paper, we didn't have plastic garbage bags until the late 60's or early 70's (at least in my house) and packaging in general was minimal and non-plastic. It's in the introduction of plastics that really made back yard burning so dangerous. Hopefully we'll be able to learn the lesson that one problem's solution is another problem waiting to happen."

Concerned North Country community member Chelle Lindahl agrees and adds, "How wonderful it will be that neighbors will no long have to close their windows off to their neighbors due to noxious fumes from burn barrels polluting their homes."


For more information about the new regulations, visit