What is Open Burning?

Open burning is the burning of unwanted material in the open air where smoke and toxic fumes are released into the atmosphere directly, therefore, affecting the environment. Often, such practice is done outdoors where household waste materials are burnt as a means of waste disposal, away from an incinerator or a furnace chamber. The lack of a chimney or stack predisposes the atmosphere to more air pollution from the open burning.

The burnt material is released, unregulated, and in its raw form into the atmosphere. Materials such as plastics have some toxic chemicals which once predisposed in the air, pose not only a danger to the environment but also become a health concern for life. This article will pinpoint the various implications of open burning on both the environment and human health and on the various ways it can be stopped.

silhouette-of-fireman-holding-hose
Source: Pexels

Causes of Open Burning

There are several reasons behind open burning. Some of them are listed below.

  • Open burning might be a part of a ritual in certain cultures, and sometimes that cannot be ignored.
  • Open burning could also be done in order to reduce the amount of generated wastes and to make waste disposal more compact.
  • Campfires made for cooking on trips and hikes can also be added to the list of open burning.
  • Sometimes we might be lazy enough to go out and get rid of the wastes.
  • Lack of proper education regarding environmental degradation and the health hazards that are posed by open burning.
  • Cheap means of waste disposal are sought for.

Effects of Open Burning on the Environment

1. Smoke Irritates the Environment

The release of uncontrolled smoke into the atmosphere pollutes the air, causing the destruction of the ozone layer. Toxic fumes released by the process affect not only the ozone layer but also plant and animal life, which has a negative impact on the wildlife and eventually declining their count. Besides, the smoke emitted from open burning has an irritating odor that pollutes clean breathing air.

2. Adverse Climate Changes are Experienced

The burning of biomass leads to the release of a thick black toxic smoke with is mostly composed of carbon. The large scale production of soot leads to the absorption of sunlight and reduces the reflective nature of the environment. It results in reduced sunlight reflected back to space, known as the Albedo effect, which contributes to global warming.

3. Smoke Obscures Visibility

Unlike normal air, smoke is not clear, and it is dense. Consequently, it hinders the movement from one place to another. This can lead to accidents on roads, which could have been avoided.

4. By Burning Garbage, Mercury can be Released and Leaches into the Soil, the Air and in Water

It neutralizes useful soil media for crop production and prevents the prevalence of some key nutrients in the soil for plant use. Also, it kills fish, thus affecting the marine life ecosystem.

5. The Presence of Nitrogen Oxide is Activated and Increased in the Air

This is a toxic compound that combines with other pollutants in the air to reduce the oxygen circulation of the air, which instantly impacts plant and tree life. Moreover, it is also a cause for global warming, given that it is very volatile in the atmosphere.

It is released only in high temperatures of fire. As a consequence of this, it causes an increase in the atmospheric temperatures and poses a hazard to the ozone layer.

6. Open Burning of Tires Lead to the Emission of dioxide and Furans

These are harmful chemicals that are released directly into the air. Once released, they settle on plants that are subsequently eaten by animals that end up dead or consumed by people who rear them. In addition, they have very corrosive effects, given that they lead to the eroding of the ozone layer, thus increasing global warming.

7. There is Always the Risk of the Fire Getting Out of Control

The fires may be started for open burning and soon get uncontrollable due to factors such as wind or the materials that are under combustion. This can lead to fire accidents or fire breakout-causing deaths or the destruction of property.

8. It Facilitates the Production of Smog

In simple terms, smog is the result of the mixing up of smoke and fog. This resultant material is more dangerous than either smoke or fog. Smog causes severe visibility issues that contribute to devastating accidents. Not just that, added to these visibility issues is the fact that smog causes several health disorders. Above all, it suffocates people to the point that they might even die.

Smog is not just simple fog and smoke. With these is mixed suspended particulate matter (SPM) that contributes towards the breathing hazards posed by smog. A detailed study of the process of the formation of smog will reveal that the volatile organic compounds or VOCs that are released during the process of open burning react with sunlight (that is, they undergo photochemical reactions) and together, they contribute towards the process of formation of smog.

It is, therefore, absolutely detrimental to the environment and its well-being. In fact, to a certain extent, smog is also responsible for global warming through the greenhouse effect.

9. Open Burning Adds Excess of Particulate Matter into the Atmosphere

Open burning is one curse of an activity. Besides all the problems that have been stated above, it causes another very significant problem. Open burning adds a lot of particulate matter or PM into the environment. This particulate matter adds to the visibility troubles that already exist due to smoke, fog or even smog.

These particles are not just hazardous for our health, but also, it is hazardous for our possessions as well. These particles settle on our cars, houses, lawn chairs, public transport and others and infect them with dangerous and toxic chemicals like dioxins.

10. Open Burning Produces Harmful Ozone

The process of open burning produces a lot of CO or carbon monoxide. This gas, in itself, is very harmful and fatal. However, when released in the atmosphere, it reacts chemically with sunlight and thus produces free ozone in the atmosphere.

It is a known fact that the ozone layer in the stratosphere protects us from the harmful UV rays of the sun. However, free ozone is very harmful, and because of it, a locality might even lose its ‘clean air’ status.

Effects of Open Burning on the Human Health and the Environment

1. Open Burning Can Lead to Breathing Difficulties

The burning of asbestos-containing materials, rubber products, and waste paints leads to the production of toxic fumes and odorous smoke to the atmosphere whose particles combine with the air, thus causing lodging deep in our lungs during inspiration, bringing about problems in breathing. With time, it can lead to diseases such as bronchitis, lung cancer, and asthma.

2. Eye Irritation

Once in contact with eyes, smoke irritates, resulting in eye problems. In the same way, breathing is made difficult; the eyes are more susceptible to these harmful particles given that eyes are external organs of the body.

3. Bioaccumulation and Toxicity in Humans

The release of dioxins from the burning of tires and rubber poses a great threat to man. They land on the plants which are eaten by animals and stored up in their fatty tissue. It is these same animals that are reared by human beings who end up ingesting the meat and products from these animals.

As a result, humans have the highest concentration of toxic substances in their bodies. This is because dioxins are bio-accumulative, which means that their concentration levels increase as you advance upwards in the food chain, with human beings being at the top of that chain.

Once in the body, they alter the normal functioning of the body, cell division, affect the reproductive system, suppress the immune system and disrupt both the immune and the hormonal systems in the body, making the body susceptible to a myriad of health-related problems.

4. Poses a Threat to the Normal Functioning of the Liver, Brain, Kidney, Heart, and Lungs

Mercury is one of the toxic substances released in the environment during the open burning of certain industrial by-products, drugs, and chemicals. It is released in water, which subsequently drains in large water bodies. It is these same water sources such as rivers that communities use for their domestic purposes like drinking and cooking.

This leads to breaking out of countless diseases that affect the brain, kidney, heart, and lungs. Furthermore, mercury has other adverse effects on water. It is ingested by fish that either die or become mercury carriers. Fish are a source of food for most people, and the ingestion of these fishes means further ingestion of the mercury.

5. Carcinogenic Elements

The ash residue left after the open burning is itself riddled with a lot of chemicals and metals such as lead. Lead can be leached in the soil when it rains or by the wind. Once in the soil, it can be absorbed by plants that are consumed either directly by man (vegetables) or by animals kept by man.

In the end, when a man consumes these vegetables or the meat from these animals, the lead levels in the body increase. Lead is known to be highly carcinogenic and causes cardiovascular diseases as well as kidney problems.

stubble-burning

Incredible Solutions to Open Burning

1. Being a Good Neighbor

At times, it is always easy to embrace simple solutions such as minding your neighbor. It is essential to check on various factors before engaging in open burning. If at all, it is the only way for waste disposal, then consider the time of day, the type of the materials, and the proximity of the open space to others.

Burning waste in the night can serve as a scare to neighbors who might awake with the notion of fire in your house only to find you outside burning waste. Also, by having the open ground away from the neighbors will reduce their proximity to the smoke or chances of fire accidents.

2. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Most of the items taken out for open burning are often reusable. Materials made from plastic can be used for other purposes in order to lengthen their useful life. Newspapers and glass are other items that can be put into other uses.

For items that cannot be put to reuse at home, they can be submitted to recycling plants for further processing. In the instance that one wants to start a minimalist life, then one can give away junk to others or contact such services to aid others in need of those items and ultimately aid in saving the environment.

3. Free Local Landfill Garbage Collection Sites

In an effort to curb open burning, some states have opted for specific garbage collection sites where people have a waste container outside their house where garbage collection companies, on specific days, collect the garbage accumulated and take it to the local landfill.

This eases the work of the residents of the state since it caters to the proper disposal of the waste, thus no need for open burning for individuals as a way of waste disposal.

4. The Implementation of Permit Issuance

This is the issuance of permits granting the authority to conduct the activity. As such, it can serve as a form of regulation by preventing people from open burning. The permit should have a high fee to dissuade applicants from seeking a permit, thereby encouraging them to opt for other healthier waste disposal methods.

Nevertheless, if one has to acquire the permit, he or she has to convince the local authority that there is no other suitable alternative method for waste disposal except for open burning. The applicant has to submit the reason for the permit and then determine the location of the open ground for the procedure.

5. Public Awareness of the Health Impacts of Open Burning

Awareness should be made in the entire world to sensitize people about the harmful effects of open burning. The governments, as well as non-governmental organizations, should take up the responsibility to guide people on the various waste disposal methods and the different methods of classification of waste to avoid burning of materials such as plastics, rubber, expired drugs, and industrial as well as chemical by-products.

6. Alternatives to Open Burning Should be Introduced

One of the best ways to solve the problem of open burning is to introduce alternatives to the public. The use of incinerators could be promoted. Making compost pits could be made more common. Alternative ways of cooking during a camp or a hike could be promoted.

References:

https://www.canada.ca/en/environment-climate-change/services/managing-reducing-waste/municipal-solid/environment/open-burning-garbage-health-risks.html

https://www.epd.gov.hk/epd/english/environmentinhk/air/guide_ref/guide_openburning.html

https://dec.vermont.gov/air-quality/compliance/open-burning

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