Lately I’ve been learning a great deal more about open burning. In working with the Fire Department these days, I’ve had occasion to consider this issue more and more. As you may know, burning of household waste is illegal in our community. But I still see some burn barrels so I think there may be a few folks who haven’t yet heard.
When I was a kid we burned our paper products and other kinds of trash in a burn barrel behind our house. I variously lived in small towns on in rural settings where that was commonplace. But now, TRASH HAS CHANGED. So many more things are made with petrochemicals than ever were before. Even ink on papers has changed. Burning household waste releases toxins into our air and water to poison us all.
Carcinogens and Heavy Metals
Many toxic chemicals are released when garbage is burned. These substances can include toxins like arsenic, styrene, barium, mercury, chromium, formaldahyde, hydrochloric acid, lead and nitrogen and sulfur oxides. Some of the most dangerous chemicals released are dioxin and dioxin-like compounds, chemicals that are produced when materials containing chlorine are burned. These materials are quite common: traces of salt, bleached paper, plastics and even wood can produce dioxin when burned.
Dioxin is a potent human carcinogen that can have significant impacts on human development, immune systems and reproductive systems. Dioxin exposure is especially harmful for children, pregnant women and the elderly. In February 1997, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified dioxin (TCDD) as a “known” human carcinogen and the Department of Health and Human Services proposed the same in 1999. The U.S. EPA has classified dioxins as “likely” human carcinogens.
Dioxin is also an endocrine disrupter (a chemical that interferes with the function of the endocrine system) and can cause reproductive, developmental and immunological problems in humans and animals. The endocrine system consists of glands and the hormones they produce that guide development, growth, reproduction and behavior.
According to the World Health Organization, 90-percent of human dioxin exposure comes not through breathing smoke, but from the food supply. Dioxin contaminants fall onto pasture lands and other animal food, where they are consumed and concentrated in the body of animals like cows, chickens, pigs and fish. When meat or dairy products are eaten, the dioxin enters and remains in our bodies. This is called bioaccumulation. Nearly all humans carry some dioxin in their bodies. Women can pass dioxin to their babies during breastfeeding. An additional problem with residential garbage burning is not just the amount of emissions but the fact that it generally occurs in agricultural areas where the dioxin can readily contaminate fodder and animal grazing lands.
I’ve only touched on the subject here so if you’d like more information here’s a link: