Burning trash in a 55-gallon drum or in just a pile, often in the backyard, is still a too common method of solid waste disposal in Tennessee. National surveys have revealed between 25 and 50 percent of rural residences and farms continue to do backyard burning. This practice is no longer necessary because our state and county does provide services and facilities to recycle and dispose of solid waste.

Waste burned ranges from all household trash including plastics, glass and metal, to a more selective burning of just paper items. However, with today's wastes, it is very difficult to keep plastics out of even carefully sorted paper-only waste. Envelope windows are usually plastic, as are some inserts in junk mail. Paper packaging often has plastic coatings.

Backyard burning results in very high levels of toxic chemicals emitted in the smoke. Compared to municipal incinerators, open burning takes place at much lower temperatures, with virtually no combustion air control, and with none of the very expensive high-tech pollution filtering apparatus. The air emissions of open burning can cause acute respiratory and other health problems in those breathing the smoke.

Burning plastics is especially problematic, with PVC plastic in particular contributing to high emissions of dioxin. Dioxin is a persistent toxin which means it does not break down into safer chemicals, and it is concentrated in the food chain. Dioxin in a burn barrel’s smoke drifts away to eventually settle on nearby fields and gardens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency now considers burn barrels a major source of dioxin. It also considers current dioxin levels in Americans are high enough to add a significant cancer risk and other serious health risks.

Open burning can also be a significant fire risk when the burning gets out of control. Deaths have resulted from such fires.

The state of Tennessee prohibits residential trash burning. Tennessee regulations only allow us to open burn natural substances such as leaves, limbs or untreated lumber. Any substance, which has been man-made or altered from its natural state, cannot be burned. These regulations are enforced by local law enforcement and fines may be imposed upon violators. State law allows for a civil penalty of up to $25,000 per day for each day of violation of the Air Quality Act regardless of the size of the burn.

On another note: The Sherriff’s Rx TakeBack program is off to a great start. Lt. Casey Cox reports that the program collected 12 pounds of prescriptions on a recent day. If you have old or unwanted prescriptions, get rid of them at the 24-hour Rx TakeBack drop-off in the Justice Center. 

If you have recycling questions, please let me know and I will try to get answers: lgorenflo@gmail.com.

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