How summer burn restrictions in some counties can protect your health

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MADISON COUNTY, Ala. -- May 1 starts the beginning of summertime burn restrictions set forth by the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.

These burn restrictions are not aimed at preventing brush fires, like the burn bans that get the most attention in years past. Instead, this annual set of restrictions effective from May 1 to October 31 takes aim at air quality.

It applies to open burning. Leaders say it's to help protect your and your community's health.

The Restrictions

Ron Gore, Chief of ADEM's Air Division, says as a general rule the only things people can typically burn (in places without burning ordinances) are untreated vegetation. That means tree limbs, leaves, and grass, and only if you're 500 feet from an occupied dwelling. It is illegal to burn trash and garbage. You can typically light campfires and host bonfires if you're burning brush. Developers can also usually get permits to burn to clear land.

"They're usually for large scale developments, rights of way, road works, subdivision. Those kind of things," said Scott Cardno, Director of Huntsville's Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management.

But under these ADEM summertime restrictions, burning the vegetation and land-clearing are prohibited in certain counties including DeKalb, Lawrence, Madison, and Morgan Counties.

ADEM says that unless already limited for drought and safety reasons in your community, this burn ban does not prohibit the use of outdoor fireplaces and campfires. You can still have those.

This burn ban may not seem like it affects you, but leaders said it's about keeping you and your community healthy.

Health Reasons

The reason for these summertime restrictions, Gore said, has to do with air quality.

He said most people may not realize that burning things adds to pollution in the air. Smoke dissipates, but particles remain. This ban, especially in more populous counties, can improve the air quality so those particles are not carried downwind.

We talked to Scott Cardno, Director of the City of Huntsville Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Management, about it.

"During the summer months, with the higher temperatures and the more stagnant wind conditions with drier air, ground-level ozone formation is more prevalent. This just eliminates those pollutants from the atmosphere-- the ozone precursors," he explained.

He said during the months these restrictions are in place, his office won't issue the land clearing permits they can other times of the year. Large-scale burns can release pollutants that they want to avoid, especially this time of year.

"During this period, if we reduce combustion emissions that will help reduce ozone formation," he said. "There are pollutants generated when you burn wood or yard waste. Fine particulate, carbon monoxide. Those are just to name a few."

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