State bans burning garbage in all towns


Local police as well as DEC officials will enforce new prohibition

ALBANY–Burning residential waste anywhere in Columbia County will become illegal beginning next week.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has extended the existing prohibition on open burning of residential waste by prohibiting the practice in all communities statewide, regardless of population. The regulation, which takes effect next Wednesday, October 14, makes exceptions for burning tree limbs and branches at limited times and for certain other types of outdoor burning.

Previously, the ban on burning residential waste applied only in towns with populations of 20,000 or more. Columbia County has no municipalities even half that size, so most rural communities were exempt from the rules until now. The New York State Environmental Board approved the new regulation September 1.

Lori Serevino, a spokeswoman for the DEC, said this week that DEC forest rangers, state environmental conservation officers and local police were authorized to enforce the new ban. But she said that there are many exceptions that resulted from a year-long process of hearings and revisions to the original burn-ban proposal. She cited the provision in the regulation that permits the burning of brush, saying restrictions on that practice was “the number one concern” of small communities around the state. The new regulations permit burning brush but set limits on the size of the material that may be burned and prohibit burning it in the spring, when the risk of wildfires is greatest.

While brush was at the top of the list of communities affected by the ban, the state had other priorities in mind in drafting the new regulation. “Burning household trash is dangerous on several levels. It can release potentially dangerous compounds – dioxins and other potential carcinogens – from materials burned in backyard fires. And it is the largest single cause of wildfires in the state,” Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, chairman of the Environmental Board, said in a DEC press release.

The DEC cites a study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the state Department of Health, that found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than those from all other sources combined for the years 2002-04. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers produce harmful chemicals when burned. The study found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead and hydrogen cyanide, among others.

Mr. Grannis noted that garbage today contains plastics, foils, batteries, paper bleached with chlorine and other materials that were not found in trash burned years ago.

In addition to pollutants, data from the DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40% of wildfires between 1986 and 2006, more than twice the next most-cited source. In 2006, debris burning triggered 98 wildfires in the state.

Open burning of residential wastes in any city or village or in any town with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972. The DEC moved to expand the prohibition to all communities after holding meetings to receive input from stakeholders and state agencies. A proposal was released in May 2008 and was followed up with public hearings and an extended public comment period. Approximately 1,800 comments were reviewed by DEC.

Ms. Serevino of the DEC said the proposal had gone out to the public for two rounds of comments. As a result, the state added modifications to include the exemption for burning of tree limbs and branches in smaller municipalities during certain times of the year.

The regulation bans all open burning except for the following:

* On-site burning of limbs and branches between May 15 and the following March 15 in any town with a total population less than 20,000  

* Barbecue grills, maple sugar arches and similar outdoor cooking devices

* Small cooking and camp fires  

* On-site burning of organic agricultural wastes, but not pesticides, plastics or other non-organic material  

* Liquid petroleum-fueled smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops

* Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires

* Disposal of a flag or religious item.  

* Burning on an emergency basis of explosive or other dangerous or contraband by police, etc.  

* Prescribed burns performed according to state regulations.  

* Fire training with some restrictions on the use of acquired structures.  

* Individual open fires to control plant and animal disease outbreaks as approved by the DEC upon the request by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets.

* Open fires as necessary to control invasive plant and insect species.

Towns totally or partially within the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks are designated fire towns under Environmental Conservation Law. The law prohibits open burning without a written permit from the DEC. On-site open burning of limbs and branches allowed under the new regulation still requires a permit if it occurs in a fire town.

To find out whether your town is a Fire Town or to obtain a permit, contact the local DEC Forest Ranger. A list of rangers and their phone numbers may be obtained at or by calling (518) 897-1300.

“We’re trying to do a lot of outreach” to explain the new burning ban, said Ms. Serevino of the DEC. She said this would include posters and the agency’s public affairs office working with municipalities to inform people of the restrictions.

A complete outline of common questions and answers on the new regulation are available at  


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