Are you burning your waste?

Burning is a continuously growing problem which poses significant negative impacts to human health and the environment. The burning of waste, sometimes referred to as open burning or backyard burning, is an environmentally poor waste management option. You may have had the disturbing experience of being in your home when suddenly everything is enveloped in a cloud of smoke. As we travel through communities all across Guyana, we often can see thick smoke billowing, and fires near electric poles, sometimes causing worry that a home is on fire. Open fires are dangerous to public health and the environment. Waste, commonly burned at or nearby homes and business premises, may include paper, cardboard, textiles, plastics, household and industrial chemicals, food, and yard clippings.

Why do people burn their trash?
The excuses may range from the high cost of garbage disposal services in their community to the absence of these services, or not wanting to haul their waste to local disposal sites. Nowadays, except in some rural areas, many communities have access to relatively low-cost garbage pickup services. While some people may burn waste for agriculture purposes, such as land clearing or preparation for the new crop season, some people may simply not understand the dangers of burning their waste, and thus see it as an easy, cost-effective method.
Burning waste is a health hazard. Burning waste can result in the release of highly toxic pollutants into your home or environment, and some people are at greater risk of being affected. Pollutants include particulate matter, nitric oxides, dioxins, and many other dangerous chemicals. Some particulate emissions that are commonly found in smoke are small enough to enter the respiratory system. This means that you can simply breathe in dangerous fine particles. Contact with pollutants can have immediate effects, such as rashes, nausea and headaches; and long-term health effects, such as asthma, emphysema and other respiratory illnesses. It can also cause damage to the nervous system, kidney and liver, including reproductive or developmental disorders.
Dioxins can be produced in harmful quantities during burning. Dioxins are a group of hundreds of chemically related compounds that are persistent environmental pollutants (POPs). These chemicals are members of three closely related families, chlorinated dibenzo-p-dioxins (CDDs), chlorinated dibenzofurans (CDFs), and certain polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs).
CDFs and CDDs are not usually created intentionally, but as a result of human activities such as burning household garbage. Some types of dioxins may result from natural processes, such as forest fires. According to the US EPA, Dioxins are highly toxic and can cause cancer, reproductive and developmental problems, damage to the immune system, and interfere with hormones. These compounds, though not present in the materials before they are burnt, are produced and introduced into the environment. Pollutants are then released at the ground level, where they can be readily inhaled, deposited on plants, and released into waterways; and can enter the food chain. More dioxins are produced in a burn barrel as compared to large incinerators, because of low oxygen and lower temperature.
Open fires are especially dangerous near populated areas, highways, airports, healthcare facilities, and other smoke-sensitive areas. Children, older people, and people with heart problems and respiratory ailments like asthma are sensitive to these pollutants.
Burning also threatens natural resources, and contributes to climate change; harmful contaminants from burning affect water, air, wildlife, and natural habitats, and can destroy soil nutrients and reduce fertility. When surface runoff increases after burning, it may carry suspended soil particles, dissolved inorganic nutrients, and other materials into adjacent trenches, streams and lakes, reducing water quality. Smoke from the burning of vegetation consists of small particles (particulate) of ash, partly consumed fuel, and liquid droplets. Other combustion products include invisible gases such as carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, hydrocarbons, and small quantities of nitrogen oxides. These substances, when present in the atmosphere, become powerful greenhouse gases which contribute to climate change.
There is an even greater risk of fires under the warm temperatures and decreased rainfall that we sometimes experience. We should therefore avoid setting fires in vegetated areas, and immediately put out fires that start spontaneously.
The Environmental Protection Agency encourages citizens to desist from burning waste. To dispose of waste by incineration requires an environmental permit. It is an offence under the Environmental Protection (Air Quality) regulations to emit any air contaminant related to industry, commerce, agriculture, or any institution, without approval from the EPA. Penalties range from $75,000 to $500,000 and imprisonment for six months.
Contact your local authority about safe and proper waste disposal methods. Be vigilant, and exercise caution when around open fires. Use caution when disposing of smoking materials or open flames like barbeque and cooking fireside.
To report persons burning waste, please call your local NDC, or the EPA on 225-5471-2/225-6048.
Report any sighting of wildfires/grass fires to the Guyana Fire Service on 912, 623-5853, 226-2411-14, or to the Civil Defence Commission on 600-7500, 226-1114-7.