Conservation Corner is a weekly article produced by the Forest County
Reminder of the 2023 Forest County Land & Water Plant Sale PICKUP
We are wrapping up our 3rd Annual Plant Sale. If you ordered plants from us (Land & Water), you can pick them up on Friday, June 2nd beginning at 9am til 4pm in the Forest County Courthouse Square. We’ll be parked next to the tank.
Also on Friday, June 2nd, we will be working with the Wild Rivers Invasive Species Coalition (WRISC) on an Invasive Species Trade Up Day. They will be with us in the Courthouse Square, next to the tank. All you have to do is bring us an invasive species from your yard, property, or roadside ditch and we’ll exchange it for a native plant voucher.
A few weeks ago, my wife completed the annual burning of our hill. Her burning reminded me of the burn barrel/pile I grew up with. I know some of the things in the pile probably shouldn’t have been burned.
The DNR classifies my family’s pit/burn barrel as open burning. Open burning is outdoor burning in an unconfined area such as a container or pile. This form of burning is sometimes referred to as backyard burning and has been common in rural areas. However, through the decades, the composition of household items has changed significantly from simple, single materials to complicated layers of many different materials.
As a result of materials becoming more complex, open burning now poses environmental and public health risks. Following state regulations and burning only approved materials can minimize the potential of harmful effects. It is important when considering open burning to know the ordinances for your local township and laws and regulations. Before burning it is important to check daily burning restrictions as Wisconsin has been experiencing high fire danger in the past month.
The burning of prohibited materials is harmful to the environment and public health as these materials release toxic chemicals that pollute the air. The WI DNR’s current list of prohibited materials includes:
- Furniture and mattresses
- Oily substance including oily or greasy rags and oil filters
- Painted, treated, laminated or glued wood
- Plastics of any kind, including bottles, bags, film, and agricultural plastics
- Shingles and tar paper
- Tires and other rubber products
- Vinyl siding
- Construction and demolition materials
- Barn boards with any paint remnants or whitewash
Residue from burning contaminates can be inhaled by humans, wildlife and livestock, deposited in the soil and surface water, and settle on plants. These contaminates can eventually enter the human food chain through the use and consumption of crops, livestock, and harvested wildlife. Smoke and soot have the ability to travel long distances. Smoke can enter houses and soot can coat items of value outside such as vehicles.
Wood ash contains some nutrients required by plants for healthy growth. Ash contains phosphorous, potassium and trace amounts of micro-nutrients, such as iron, manganese, boron, copper and zinc. When these nutrients enter waterbodies, they are harmful to the delicate ecosystems within. When burning debris, like brush, leaves, tree limbs or clean wood waste, avoid burning near waterway shorelines. Vegetation death can occur along the shoreline due to the burning.
The burning of household waste, like clean wood and leaves, produces smoke that pollutes the air and can impact human health. Some resulting impacts are eye and nose irritation, difficulty breathing, coughing and headaches. Individuals with heart disease, asthma, emphysema or other respiratory diseases are especially sensitive to air pollutants. Lung infections, pneumonia, bronchiolitis and allergies are other health problems aggravated by open burning.
The burning of garbage and plastics can cause long-term health problems. Today’s garbage contains plastics, dyes, and other chemicals that release hazardous toxins when burned. Many of these chemicals were not around several decades ago when burning garbage was more common and acceptable. The toxic chemicals released during burning these materials include nitrogen oxides, sulfur dioxide, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs) and polycyclic organic matter (POMs). Heavy metals and toxic chemicals are released from the burning of plastics and treated wood. The cancer-causing chemicals benzo(a)pyrene (BAP) and polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are released in the burning of plastics. Burning plastics such as empty herbicide jugs or agricultural plastics that may have pesticide remnants will also release the chemical into the air.
Today there are many alternatives to burning garbage, including recycling, composting, proper disposal in landfills and donating or repurposing items. The leaching of heavy metals and other potentially toxic compounds can occur when ash lands in streams, lakes and rivers, or in drinking water supplies. The burying of ashes, especially ashes of prohibited materials, will eventually reach a water source that may be your own drinking water supply. Disposal of ash waste in a licensed landfill can avoid these problems.