GCC Visits an MRF

Waste Management in Washington County

Our Statement in Support of the NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's Proposed Ban on Open Burning

Resa Dimino
Commissioner’s Policy Office
NYS DEC
625 Broadway
Albany, NY

 

These comments are submitted on behalf of the Greenwich Citizens Committee, Inc. Our active 20-year-old southern Washington County citizens’ organization strongly supports the state's proposed ban on open burning of garbage and other inappropriate materials.

As rural residents, our members are quite concerned about the widespread practice of burning garbage and other inappropriate materials in burn barrels, burn piles, fireplaces, outdoor wood furnaces and indoor woodstoves—in short, wherever it takes place in cities, small towns, villages and hamlets, and on farms and the countryside.  (We understand that the ban only applies to open burning, including in burn barrels, outdoors.)

Without the ban, we have been unable to protect our own health and the environment from this egregious practice.  It is difficult to influence people to abandon this practice, since in the absence of state regulation, they do not believe they are doing anything wrong.  Even where local governments have passed their own local laws, local officials are often reluctant to enforce their laws, because doing so might offend some of their constituents. As a result we are frustrated and the public health and environment have suffered.

Open burning is a noxious pollution source.  People burn all types of materials.  Burning them under the uncontrolled conditions that characterize these sorts of fires results in many dangerous chemical byproducts including carcinogens being released to the environment. Open burning takes place almost anywhere in our rural communities—on farms as well as in hamlets and villages where neighbors are exposed to the uncontrolled release of a myriad of pollutants.  In addition to creating long-term health problems, the smoke also can trigger or exacerbate health acute problems, especially for the respiratory system.   Toxic ash can contaminate soil and get into our water resources.

Pollution from open burning poses dangers to people and pets, livestock, and wildlife.  Children, pregnant women, the elderly, and people with pre-existing illnesses are more likely to be affected.

We reject the claims made by the Farm Bureau and some farmers that open burning of materials other than clean wood, vines and other natural materials grown on the farm is essential for agriculture.  The cost of disposing of man-made solid waste, such as plastic wraps for forage products, plastic containers and other commercial and household garbage in a responsible manner is small in comparison to all the other costs of running a farm as well as the health costs imposed on others in the community caused by uncontrolled burning of garbage.  The toxic contamination of food and feed that can result from uncontrolled open burning is undesirable from many other standpoints as well – including animal husbandry.  The idea that hard to dispose of wastes, such as farm plastics, which release noxious fumes when burned, should be exempt from the ban on open burning is difficult to understand, as it is exactly the type of waste material that should never be burned in an uncontrolled manner.  The Farm Bureau should instead set a goal of creating a workable program for collecting these plastics for recycling or other beneficial reuse.

Burning “garbage” destroys valuable materials, like paper, cardboard, metals, glass, and plastic bottles, that should be recycled.  It undermines pro-active solid waste management efforts.  Open burning also destroys organic matter, like yard waste and food residues that can be composted.  Anyone who objects to a ban on open burning on the grounds that paying for garbage disposal is too expensive should carefully consider why he or she has so much waste.  While waste reduction must be promoted by public policy including product stewardship mandates and agreements, households and businesses can make great strides in reducing the amount of waste they generate, through conscious purchasing, recycling, reuse, and composting. When people make foolish statements like “Open burning is a rural tradition,’ they are ignoring the fact that what we throw away in 2008 bears little resemblance to the discards of a century ago.  Today’s garbage contains styrofoam, PVC, pressure-treated and painted wood, pesticides, batteries, electronics, bleached and colored paper, and other products containing heavy metals and any number of synthetic and composite materials.

Open burning can pose a serious fire threat as well.

Thank you for proposing this ban.  It is our sincere wish that the ban be finalized and aggressively implemented across the state.

Sincerely,

Tracy Frisch, President
Greenwich Citizens Committee, Inc.
1293 McClay Road
Greenwich, NY 12834