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WNC Air Quality News

Open Burning Risks Cited for Ozone Season - May 2004

Area residents are cautioned to avoid open burning during the spring clean-up season, in order to comply with legal restrictions and health concerns involving air emissions.

"Warmer days mean the beginning of our ozone season," explained Bob Camby, director of the Western North Carolina Regional Air Quality Agency (WNCRAQA) which regulates air emissions in Asheville and Buncombe County.

"We want to remind people that all open burning is prohibited on ozone action days, when the forecast code goes to orange or red. And open burning of anything other than vegetative material is actually illegal at all times," explained Camby.

Household garbage, plastics, or other man-made materials, such as shingles or other construction materials, can release toxic pollutants beyond the ozone-contributing factors, and burning these materials is banned across the state.

Technically, vegetative material such as tree branches or leaves originating on the premises of a private residence may be legally burned when weather conditions permit, provided there is no public pickup service available. But Camby urged residents to consider non-burning solutions such as composting, chipping and mulching in order to reduce air quality risks and neighborhood nuisance.

"We have a lot more people living in our area now," Camby said, so the problem of pollution from open burning is much more significant.” Particulates from legally burned plant material actually have similar effects on air quality as those from cars and other combustion engines, or from coal-fired power plants. These particulates can cause harm to plants and can compromise human health, particularly for those people suffering from asthma.

Under WNCRAQA regulations, no open burning is permitted where public pickup of yard waste is provided. WNCRAQA issues open burning permits to allow burning of machine piled brush (i.e.; land clearing debris). In addition, a permit to burn may be required from the North Carolina Forest Service or local fire department. But even with a proper permit, the air agency's rules mean no burning when ozone levels place the community at risk.

For further information, and to check on the status of ozone forecasts, call WNCRAQA, 828-250-6777. Use that number to report illegal burning, as well.