Rural "burn Barrels" Identified As Pollution Source

Attorney General Spitzer - in cooperation with the American Lung Association of New York State - today released an educational brochure urging homeowners to reduce the practice of burning household garbage and find alternative ways to dispose of refuse.

"In many rural areas, the most convenient way to dispose of household garbage is simply to burn it in barrels or pits," Spitzer said. "This age-old practice has become increasingly harmful to public health and the environment."

Spitzer noted that generations ago, household trash consisted mainly of paper products and food waste. Today's typical refuse includes materials that, when burned, emit highly toxic smoke that is often inhaled by rural homeowners, family members and neighbors.

Plastics, polystyrene containers, synthetic fabrics and packaging materials - all typical components of household trash - produce dioxin, benzene, formaldehyde, arsenic and cyanide when burned.

The air pollution problem is exacerbated by the fact that garbage ignited in a backyard barrel burns at a relatively low combustion temperature, which produces more harmful chemicals and airborne particles.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency recently identified uncontrolled trash burning in so-called "burn barrels" as a major source of dioxin contamination. Dioxin is linked to developmental delays in children, damage to the immune system and increased risk of cancer. According to the EPA, dairy cows that graze on pastures where burn barrel pollution has fallen may produce milk with higher concentrations of dioxin and other contaminants.

Peter Iwanowicz, Director of Environmental Health for the American Lung Association of New York State, said: "Air pollution poses a health risk to all New Yorkers, but it is a serious threat to those with lung disease. Since it directly exposes the public to emissions that can trigger an asthma attack or exacerbate other respiratory disease, we recommend that people refrain from burning household waste in burn barrels."

State law prohibits trash burning in communities of 20,000 people or more. Spitzer's office is looking for ways to educate the public on the need to reduce residential garbage burning.

The Attorney General's publication provides recommendations on how to reduce the amount of garbage produced and how to recycle as much as possible.

The report may be obtained by contacting the New York State Attorney General's Office or the Attorney General's website at

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