DEC considers statewide burn ban; some residents oppose measure

By Jay Braman Jr.
In an effort to reduce the impacts of pollutants such as dioxins, particulate matter and carbon monoxide and to limit the risks of wildfires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation plans to extend a ban on open burning statewide beyond the current ban for any municipality with a population of 20,000, a law in effect since 1972.
“This is a public health and safety issue,” said DEC Commissioner Pete Grannis. “The trash we are burning has become more complicated and damaging to air quality over the decades. From dioxins to furans to arsenic, numerous toxic chemicals can be released by open burning - worries we didn’t have several decades ago. Moreover, wildfires occur regularly from badly tended open fires. This proposal will reduce the chances of that happening.”
But a growing number of local residents in the Catskills have started to fight to protect their burn options… for trash and “the protection of a lifestyle we’ve grown used to,” according to Olive resident Rich Ostrander. Ostrander notes that such a ban would also prevent current lot clearing practices where contractors burn brush as they cut away the property, forcing contractors to pay to remove the brush.
Once considered harmless, DEC has reported that open burning has been found to release more dangerous chemicals into the air than thought generations ago. A recent study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the State Department of Health, found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than all other sources combined for the years 2002-04. The study also found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, hydrogen cyanide and other harmful chemicals. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers can produce harmful chemicals when burned.
In addition to releasing pollutants, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 - more than twice the next most-cited source. The proposed rule does allow for a number of exceptions, including camp fires, prescribed burns, celebratory bonfires (where allowed), fire training exercises, specialized burning to protect crops from frostbite and burning of agricultural wastes (though not agricultural plastics).
The state is currently conducting a series of public hearings on the proposal, including one at 5 p.m. on Tuesday, June 24 at the Norrie Point Environmental Center in Staatsburg and two from 9:30 a.m. to noon and 5 to 8 p.m. on Wednesday, June 25, at DEC’s Central Office, 625 Broadway, Public Assembly Room 129, Albany.
To read the proposal, go to http://www.dec.ny.gov/ and select “Proposed Regulations” from the left column and find the proposal on open burning. This will provide links to send written e-mail comments. Or, comments can be mailed to: NYSDEC, Division of Air Resources, Attention: Robert Stanton, 625 Broadway, Albany, NY 12233-3254.