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Burning trash poses health risks

Smoke from burn barrels is unhealthy
Smoke from burn barrels is unhealthy

Burning trash at home is a serious threat to public health and the environment. It has been illegal in Minnesota since 1969, but is still a common practice in rural areas. 

A 2005 survey concluded that 45 percent of rural Minnesotans dispose of at least some of their household waste in burn barrels, fire pits, or stoves. 

Until a few decades ago, burning garbage at home was much less dangerous to your health.  But garbage has changed in the last 50 years.  Today, burning anything, even seemingly harmless items like paper or cardboard, commonly used to start fires in wood stoves, can give off toxic emissions, including dangerous dioxins. 

Dioxins are highly toxic, long-lasting organic compounds. They are dangerous even at extremely low levels and have been linked to several health problems, including cancer and developmental and reproductive disorders.

Dioxins are formed when products containing carbon and chlorine are burned. Even very small amounts of chlorine can produce dioxins.  The ash residue from burning trash at home can also contain other toxic pollutants, such as mercury, lead, chromium, and arsenic.  Children can accidentally swallow toxic materials from dirt on their hands while playing near discarded ash. 

Not only are the people who burn trash exposed to these pollutants, but so are their families and neighbors. Children, the elderly, and those with pre-existing respiratory conditions can be especially vulnerable.

To learn more about the dangers of burning trash at home, visit the MPCA online.