Open backyard burning of household waste represents a very real risk of health harm to Kentucky residents due to the release of an array of toxic air contaminants, presenting a particular risk to rural residents and to children who might be exposed to the smoke generated by open trash burning. Additionally, the resulting ash created by incomplete combustion of trash contains residual toxins that may result in contamination of areas where the ash is disposed.
KRS Chapter 224 charges the Cabinet with the responsibility to maintain “at all times both now and in the future a reasonable degree of purity of the air resources of this Commonwealth consistent with maximum employment and full industrial development necessary for the protection of the public health, the general welfare, and the property and people in this Commonwealth; and foster the comfort and convenience of its inhabitants and facilitate the enjoyment of the natural attractions of the state.” KRS 224.20-100.
In setting standards, the Cabinet is obligating to “require the use of all available, practical and reasonable methods to prevent and control air pollution in the Commonwealth of Kentucky.” KRS 224.20-120.
Because the amendments to 401 KAR 63:005 do not adequately protect the public from the adverse health effects of exposure to toxic air pollutants released during open-air combustion of trash, KRC asks that you reject the proposed amendments to the regulation.
For many years, the Cabinet has regulated open burning. Under 401 KAR 401 KAR 63:005 there is a general rule against open burning of wastes and granting within limits, certain exceptions to the rule.
One of those exemptions has been for the uncontrolled open backyard burning of garbage. While open burning of residential mixed waste was prohibited by federal law in 1979 (40 CFR 257), burning of household waste continues to be allowed by the state. During the recent rulemaking, KRC urged that for reasons of protecting public health, backyard burning of home trash should be prohibited. KRC supplied information from government sources documenting the potential adverse health consequences of exposure to smoke and ash from backyard waste burning.
Given what is known of the adverse health effects of open burning of mixed household waste, a prohibition on the practice is the only approach consistent with the mandate of KRS 224.20-100.
As you are aware, universal availability of garbage collection has been the law since 2002 in this state. Under KRS 224.43-315, each county was required by October 1, 2003 to provide “a universal collection program . . . for all municipal solid waste generated within the county.” Those collection programs could be any combination of door-to-door collection, direct haul to staffed convenience centers, or other alternatives, provided that the counties “can demonstrate that all of its citizens are being given access to the solid waste collection system which is proposed.” KRS 224.43-315.
Since this is the law, and the 120 counties are in compliance with this requirement, it was somewhat dismaying to read the agency’s Statement of Consideration. I have reprinted KRC’s comments and the agency’s response:
Comment: The cabinet should re-evaluate its position regarding the continued allowance of open burning in non-emergency situations. Universal access to proper disposal of solid waste is mandated of local governments and available throughout the Commonwealth. The commenter cites composting, recycling, and beneficial reuse of materials as viable alternatives to open burning, and he also discusses the negative health and environmental effects of open burning.
Response: The cabinet acknowledges this comment. While the cabinet continues to promote other alternatives to open burning, the lack of statewide mandated garbage pickup and recycling programs continues to be an impediment to progress. The cabinet recognizes the potential negative health and environmental effects of open burning. However, the only current viable alternative to open burning is landfilling these wastes, which also has negative health and environmental effects associated with it.
KRC was taken aback to read that the Cabinet believed continued allowance of open burning was necessary because of a lack of mandatory universal collection, since the universal availability of proper waste disposal is the law and by definition, provides an available alternative in each county for open burning.
KRC was equally flabbergasted to read that the Cabinet had equated the adverse health effects of exposure to airborne air toxics from incomplete combustion of wastes by backyard burning, with the possible exposure from wastes landfilled in accordance with the state’s rigorous solid waste standards. While it is true that no method of waste disposal is without consequence, and the long-term management of landfilled wastes and the leachate and off-gases generated by decomposition of those wastes must be carefully managed, the suggestion that continued open burning of household waste is environmentally equivalent in potential impacts to public health and the environment is wildly inaccurate and offensive.
Given the availability of solid waste collection and disposal facilities, it is quite simply irresponsible to continue to allow of open backyard burning of household wastes.
The Cabinet’s regulation allows the burning of household “rubbish,” including “waste material and trash normally accumulated by a family in a residence in the course of ordinary day-to-day living” but excludes “garbage, cans, glass, plastic, or other potentially hazardous waste materials.”
This distinction is unenforceable and unrealistic since it is the rare household that, prior to setting fire to household garbage in a burn pit, will separate out putrescible animal and vegetative matter (garbage) or papers before combusting the material.
It is also a distinction that is insufficient to protect the health of those living in the house and breathing any smoke from the open fire. In a detailed emissions characterization study conducted by EPA in which two separate experimental waste streams – that of an avid recycler and that of a non-recycler, were combusted in a burn barrel and the emissions analyzed, “substantial emissions of numerous pollutants were found,” and significant differences between emissions from the two waste streams. Dioxin emissions were found to be higher from the recycler, and while emissions were higher for the non-recycler of non-chlorinated compounds, emissions of chlorinated organics were higher for the avid recycler, as were emissions of hydrochloric acid. At bottom, while separating certain compounds from the waste stream may alter the emissions profile, both sorted and mixed wastes generated significant fine particulate pollution and an array of toxic air pollutants. The release of these emissions at ground level, resulting in decreased dilution by dispersion, makes them an immediate health concern to the property residents and neighbors.
Additionally, the prohibition on backyard burning of “other potentially hazardous waste materials” is meaningless since the homeowner is unlikely to know which components of the mixed family waste are “potentially hazardous waste materials,” since none of them were designed to be combusted, and many of them become potentially hazardous only when combusted under these conditions.
The law is cheapened and the pubic interest is not served when we create regulatory distinctions and frameworks that are neither workable nor enforceable, and which have little to no chance to protect the public, and then comfort ourselves that we have done our job.
What are the health consequences of open burning of mixed household waste?
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, “burning trash in the open produces many pollutants, including dioxins, particle pollution, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide, hexachlorobenzene, and ash. Many dangerous health conditions can be caused by inhaling or ingesting even small amounts of these pollutants. Small children, the elderly, or people with preexisting respiratory conditions can be especially vulnerable to some of these pollutants.” EPA has provided this additional information on the health effects of exposure to the air toxics created backyard burning of household wastes:
Backyard burning is of particular health concern because it produces significant quantities of dioxins. Dioxins and "dioxin like" compounds are a group of 30 highly toxic chlorinated organic chemicals. They are produced naturally in small quantities, but are primarily the result of human activity. They can be produced through industrial processes such as chlorinated chemical manufacturing and metal smelting. Currently, however, the largest quantified source of dioxin emissions is the uncontrolled burning of household trash (backyard burning). Studies have shown that only small amounts of chlorinated materials in waste are required to support dioxin formation when burning waste. This means that even when materials containing high levels of chlorine, such as PVC, are removed from household trash, burning the waste still creates dioxins because nearly all household waste contains trace amounts of chlorine. Much of the dioxins created and released into the air through backyard burning settle on plants. These plants are, in turn, eaten by meat and dairy animals, which store the dioxins in their fatty tissue. People are exposed to dioxins primarily by eating meat, fish, and dairy products, especially those high in fat. Backyard burning occurs most commonly in rural farming areas where dioxin emissions can more easily be deposited on animal feed crops and grazing lands. These dioxins then accumulate in the fats of dairy cows, beef, poultry, and swine, making human consumption of these harmful chemicals difficult to avoid. Dioxins are classified as persistent, bioaccumulative, and toxic pollutants (PBTs). PBTs are highly toxic, long-lasting substances that can build up in the food chain to levels that are harmful to human and ecosystem health. Persistent means they remain in the environment for extended periods of time. Bioaccumulative means their concentration levels increase as they move up the food chain. As a consequence, animals at the top of the food chain (such as humans) tend to have the highest dioxin concentrations in their bodies. Dioxins are potent toxicants with the potential to produce a broad spectrum of adverse effects in humans. Dioxins can alter the fundamental growth and development of cells in ways that have the potential to lead to many kinds of impacts. These include adverse effects upon reproduction and development, suppression of the immune system, disruption of hormonal systems, and cancer. For more detailed information on dioxin health effects, safety issues, and risk, visit EPA's Dioxin and Related Compounds Web site.
Particle pollution, also referred to as particulate matter, or PM, refers to microscopic particles released by open burning. Particles that are small enough to get into the lungs (those less than or equal to 10 um in diameter) can cause numerous health problems. Particles can aggravate respiratory conditions such as asthma and bronchitis, and have been associated with cardiac arrhythmia (heartbeat irregularities) and heart attacks. People with heart or lung disease, the elderly, and children are at highest risk from exposure to particles.
Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, or PAHs, are a group of chemicals commonly found in particulate matter (or smoke and soot) released from backyard burning. They are formed from the incomplete combustion of certain materials. Some PAHs are carcinogenic, or cancer-causing.
Volatile Organic Compounds
People in the immediate vicinity of a burn barrel are also exposed to high levels of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) produced by open burning. Many VOCs are harmful to humans. They also contribute to ground-level ozone pollution, also known as smog, which can worsen respiratory, heart, and other existing health problems. Inhaling certain VOCs can lead to eye, nose, and throat irritation; headache; loss of coordination; nausea; and damage to liver, kidney, and central nervous system.
Another major pollutant generated by backyard burning is carbon monoxide (CO). At low levels of exposure to CO, humans may experience a variety of neurological symptoms including headache, fatigue, nausea, and vomiting.
Hexachlorobenzene, or HCB, is a highly persistent environmental toxin that degrades slowly in air and, consequently, undergoes long-range atmospheric transport. HCB bioaccumulates in fish, marine animals, birds, lichens, and animals that feed on fish or lichens. Based on studies conducted on animals, long-term low-level exposures may damage a developing fetus, cause cancer, lead to kidney and liver damage, and cause fatigue and skin irritation. HCB is considered a probable human carcinogen and is toxic by all routes of exposure.
Backyard burning also produces ash residue, which can contain toxic metals such as mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic. These metals can be toxic when ingested. When a person ingests hazardous amounts of lead, for example, he or she may experience high blood pressure, cardiovascular problems, kidney damage, and brain damage. Unaware of the potential danger, some people scatter the ash in their gardens or bury it on their property. Garden vegetables can absorb and accumulate these metals, which can make them dangerous to eat. Children playing in the yard or garden can incidentally ingest soil containing these metals. Also, rain can wash the ash into groundwater and surface water, contaminating drinking water and food.
In addition to the health risks posed from exposure to air toxics from backyard trash burning, wildland fires caused by backyard trash burning take a toll on Kentucky’s forests. Since 1977, the Division of Forestry has averaged responding to 2,031 fires that have burned 81,025 acres of forestland annually. Almost 90 percent of these fires are cause by humans, with over 55% caused by arson and 27%, the second largest category, from burning debris (including backyard trash burning). The risk to property and to life both to those in the path of the fires and those fighting the fires, can be lessened by precluding the unnecessary burning of backyard rubbish and trash.
Presented with this EPA health information indicating the dangers of exposure to air pollution from backyard trash burning, one would expect that the Cabinet would concur that the practice should not be allowed, particularly in light of the complete avoidability of these health risks and the availability of relatively safer forms of waste collection and disposal. Since the agency has chosen to allow a practice to continue that poses very tangible risks to public health, and has determined to continue an exemption that does not satisfy the legislative mandate to protect the general health and welfare of the public, KRC respectfully requests that you attach a letter of deficiency to the regulation pursuant to KRC 13A.