Outdoor burning is harmful to your health | PostIndependent.com

Outdoor burning is harmful to your health

Garfield County Environmental Health Department
Post Independent
Glenwood Springs, CO Colorado
Contributed photosThese two photos taken from atop the Henry Building in downtown Rifle are an example of the difference in how air quality affects visibility. The photo at the bottom depicts very poor air quality on March 21, 2011, as a dust storm blew into Garfield County from the west. The photo at the top shows a high air quality day just two days later, on March 23, 2011.

Editor’s note: In recognition of National Air Quality Awareness week, Garfield, Eagle, Mesa, and Pitkin County, the city of Aspen, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency are working together to raise awareness about indoor and outdoor air quality issues, encouraging communities to “share the air.”

Smoke is harmful to human health, whether it’s from cigarettes or an outdoor fire.

The smoke from burning agricultural fields, brush piles, or other natural material has been linked to health problems ranging from coughing to nervous system disorders.

“In western Colorado, particularly in the spring, we get complaints regarding fires and smoke,” said Jim Rada, Garfield County Environmental Health Director. “This time of year, if you are out driving you are likely to see smoke from an outdoor burn.”

Coloradoans who burn branches or other tree waste on their property must get an air quality permit first. There are some exceptions, the most common of which is for agricultural burning.

However each county or municipality may have its own requirements.

“It is really important for people to know that before they burn they need to contact their local environmental health or fire department,” said Rada.

According to public health officials, burning household waste is never allowable. The use of burn barrels poses serious health risks and damages the air, soil, and water. According to the EPA, effects from these toxins can last for decades.

Rada said modern garbage is a mix of plastics and other synthetics that release toxins when burned.

“Even things that seem harmless like white office paper and pizza boxes can produce toxins,” he said.

One other reason it is important to call is that local experts can offer advice on proper burning conditions.

Weather affects how and where smoke and its pollutants move. Pollutants can get trapped in valleys, affecting residents in the surrounding area.

The Colorado Air Pollution Control Division advises burning only on days with good smoke dispersal. The agency also advises waiting until mid- or late- morning, when weather inversions typically break. After that, burning should be done as early in the day as possible.

Fires piles need to be built tight in order to burn hot and fast and minimize pollution. Fires should be extinguished before sunset and never allowed to smolder, especially in the still overnight air.

Rada encourages people to consider alternatives to burning that don’t harm air quality, such as chipping, composting and the landfill.

“Pollution from burning reduces the quality of the beautiful views that western Colorado is known for,” he said. “It’s also important to note that getting a burn permit doesn’t address the threat of escaped fire or other immediate safety concerns that need to be considered if you are going to burn.”

To find out more about burning alternatives, regulations, and guidelines, contact Garfield County Public Health at 625-5200 or visit http://www.garfield-county.com/public-health/open-burning.aspx.

For burn permit information, contact your local fire district.

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