A ban on backyard burn barrels will take effect October 14, 2009. After a year of investigations and public hearings held across the state, the state Department of Conservation has mandated a ban on open burning to reduce harmful air pollutants and prevent wildfires in New York state. Under the new regulations, open burning of residential waste will be prohibited in all communities statewide, bringing an end to the sight of backyard burning barrels. Once considered harmless, recent studies have demonstrated that open burning releases substantial amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air. The studies found burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead and hydrogen cyanide. Since 1972, with the exception of villages and cities, the DEC allowed burn barrels in towns with populations of less than 20,000. Under the new regulations, such burning will cease with the exception of the burning of tree limbs and brush between May 15 and the following March 15 in any town with a population of less than 20,000. Of particular importance to the farming community, it also allows on-site burning of organic agricultural wastes but prohibits burning of pesticides, plastics or other non-organic materials.
The ban on non-organic materials focuses on the disposal of plastic bags containing fertilizers and pesticides used in farming and the plastic covers placed on rolled bales of hay stored in open fields. The farmers have to dispose of these items using methods that will not pollute the environment. Allowed open fires include: Barbecue grills, maple sugar arches and similar outdoor cooking devises; Small cooking and camp fires; Liquid petroleum fueled smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops; Ceremonial or celebration bonfires; Disposal of a flag or a religious item; Emergency burning by police of explosives or other dangerous material or contraband; Prescribed burning performed according to state regulations; Fire training with some restrictions on the use of acquired structures.