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Hazards and Effects on Respiratory Health of Backyard Burning. Theodore W. Marcy, MD MPH Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine University of Vermont College of Medicine American Lung Association of Vermont. Outline of Discussion. Lung function, anatomy and inhaled toxins

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Hazards and Effects on Respiratory Health of Backyard Burning

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Hazards and effects on respiratory health of backyard burning

Hazards and Effects on Respiratory Health of Backyard Burning

Theodore W. Marcy, MD MPH

Pulmonary Disease and Critical Care Medicine

University of Vermont College of Medicine

American Lung Association of Vermont

Outline of discussion

Outline of Discussion

  • Lung function, anatomy and inhaled toxins

  • Characteristics of the emissions from backyard burning of trash

    • Contents

    • Quantity compared to other emissions

  • Health Hazards

    • In normals

    • In vulnerable populations

Function of the respiratory system

Function of the Respiratory System

  • Gas exchange

    • Eliminate CO2

    • Transfer Oxygen to blood

  • To accomplish this

    • Gas exchange organ (lung)

    • Respiratory pump to move air in and out

Anatomy of the lung and alveoli location of gas exchange

Anatomy of the Lung and Alveoli Location of Gas Exchange

Interaction of lung with environment

Interaction of Lung with Environment

  • Volume of air we breath per day = 10,000 Liters

  • Surface area of lung = Squash court

  • Lung defense

    • Filtering by nose and upper airway

    • Impact of particles at branching airways

    • Particles removed by mucociliary escalator and swallowed or coughed out

    • Other foreign particles cleared by resident cells of the defense system (macrophages)

What particles get to the alveoli

What Particles Get to the Alveoli?

Particles of most importance are less than 10 microns in diameter (RBC is 5 microns)


Air pollution and health

Air Pollution and Health

  • An increase in PM10 by 10 g/m3 associated with a 0.5% increase in death rate from all causes

  • An increase in PM10 by 10 g /m3 associated with an 8-18% increase in cardiovascular causes of death

  • Ban on coal sales in Dublin associated with a

    • Decrease in air pollution

    • 6% decrease in non-trauma death rates

    • 10% decrease in cardiovascular death rates

    • 16% decrease in respiratory death rates

Wood burning

Wood Burning

  • Campfires

  • Woodstoves for home heating

  • Incineration of cleared brush and trees

Wood burning1

Wood Burning

Burning 20 lbs of woodputs1 lb of pollution in the air

  • 100 different chemicals

    • Carbon monoxide

    • Nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide

    • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons

    • Large amount of PM10 particulates

  • Pollution from 1 home heated by wood for 1yr equals

    • 400 homes heated by oil or natural gas

    • 1 car driving 130,000 miles

Backyard burning

Backyard Burning

  • Used as low cost method of trash disposal

  • Trash is NOT just wood, paper and yard waste

  • Trash consists of plastics, synthetics, other chemicals

  • Low temperature burning (500) leads to incomplete combustion

  • Emissions highly concentrated and “in your face”

Emissions from backyard burning







Fine particulate matter

Carbon monoxide

Carbon dioxide

Sulfur dioxide

Dioxins and Furans

PAHs and PCBs

Emissions from Backyard Burning

Comments on some emissions

Comments on Some Emissions

  • Carbon monoxide

    • Binds to hemoglobin, reducing oxygen delivery

  • Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs)

    • Contribute to ground level ozone pollution (smog)

    • Aggravate respiratory and heart conditions

    • Some (PAHs) are carcinogenic

  • Hexachlorobenzene

    • Birth defects

    • Kidney and liver damage

  • Benzopyrene

    • Suspected cause of lung cancer

Health consequences

Health Consequences

  • Upper airway irritation

  • Neurologic symptoms (headache, fatigue)

  • Acute respiratory symptoms (shortness of breath

  • Asthma and chronic lung disease exacerbations

  • Acute cardiac events

  • Cancers (long term exposures)

  • Hospitalizations

  • Increased deaths

Emissions from burn barrels in the us lbs year

Emissions from burn barrels in the US (lbs./year)




dioxins 139

furans 22

PCB 10,962

hydrogen cyanide1,700,000

arsenic 8,186

Municipal waste combustor mwc vs barrel burning

Municipal Waste Combustor (MWC) vs Barrel Burning

2,200 F 500  F

Epa evaluation of emissions from barrel burning lemieux epa 1998

EPA Evaluation of Emissions from Barrel Burning: Lemieux EPA 1998

  • Purpose: Risk assessment

    • Qualitative identification and quantitative measure of emissions from open burning of household refuse

    • Comparison to other point and area sources

  • Waste from non-recycling and avid recycling households

    • Burned in test facility

    • Extractive samples analyzed

  • Compared to emissions from MWC field test

Household burning vs mwc

Household family of 4


4.9 kg/day

62% paper products

8% plastic resin


1.5 kg/day

62% paperboard

16% plastic resin


182,000 kg/day

37,000 non-recycling households or

121,000 recycling households

Household Burning vs MWC

Emissions per mass of refuse mwc vs open burning

Emissions per Mass of RefuseMWC vs Open Burning

How many barrel burning homes equals the pollution from a mwc

How many barrel burning homes equals the pollution from a MWC?

Daily MWC estimated emission

Daily estimated emissions from households

#households that

equal a MWC


Lemieux EPA March 1998

Vulnerable populations

Vulnerable Populations

  • Asthma in Vermont

    • 41,000 adults

    • 13,000 children

  • Chronic lung disease

    • 7,000 with emphysema

    • 26,000 with chronic bronchitis

  • Children

    • Absorb more toxins per weight than adults

    • Second hand smoke increases respiratory tract infections, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome

Vermont state regulations on open burning

Vermont State Regulations on Open Burning

  • Allowed (if not prohibited by local ordinances)

    • Campfires and outdoor barbecues

    • Burning of leaves, brush, deadwood, tree cuttings

    • Natural wood bonfires on festive occasions

  • Illegal to burn

    • Paper and cardboard

    • Tires and other rubber products

    • Treated, painted, or finished wood

    • Tarpaper or asphalt shingles

    • Plastics

    • Garbage

Backyard burning in vermont

Backyard Burning in Vermont

  • 18,000 households

  • 28 million pounds of trash annually

The Herald of Randolph, VT 11/30/00

Opinions regarding burn barrels

Opinions Regarding Burn Barrels

  • 28% burn household garbage and other materials (in burn barrel or other device)

    Of those that burn household garbage

  • 45% burn garbage because it is convenient

  • 32% believe they are reducing waste

  • 35% said that nothing would cause them to stop this practice

  • 34% (ironically) believe there is not enough concern about the environment

Survey in Minnesota and Wisconsin

From ALA of Wisconsin

Alternatives to backyard burning



Used oil

Plastic bottles





Office paper


Yard wastes

Vegetable Scraps



Donate to charity

Buy smart

Avoid unnecessary packing

Alternatives to Backyard Burning

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