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Great Balls of Fire! Open burning – what can I burn?

What? I can’t burn my trash?!?! In 2015, the Air Quality Division (AQD) received approximately 245 complaints associated with alleged illegal open burning. Open burning is defined as the burning of unwanted items, such as household trash, brush, leaves, grass, and other materials that release emissions directly into the air without going through a stack. Open burning is regulated by both the AQD and the Office of Waste Management and Radiological Protection under Part 55 (Air Pollution Control) and Part 115 (Solid Waste Management) of Act 451 of 1994. In addition to state regulations, many local units of government have open burning ordinances that are more restrictive than the state’s rules. Such restrictions are necessary as open burning can increase the risk of forest fires and become an irritant to those exposed to the smoke. Irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs can occur, which is what typically leads to complaints. The smoke from the open burning can also decrease visibility on nearby roadways and cause odor nuisances. Most open burning complaints received by the DEQ deal simply with neighbors not wanting the impact of smoke and odors at their home or place of business. Is burning my trash illegal? It depends. Section 324.11522 of Public Act 451 of 1994 regulates the burning of household waste and provides for ticketing authority. The rule allows burning of some materials under specific circumstances. As far as burning household waste, the rule does not allow burning of any materials containing plastic, rubber, foam, chemically-treated wood, textiles, electronics, chemicals, or hazardous materials. In short, paper products are still generally legal to burn. But, the burning must not violate any other department rules and may only be from a one or two-family dwelling. Further, the material must be burned in an approved container constructed of metal or masonry and enclosed by a metal cover with openings not larger than ¾ inch. Note that some communities prohibit the open burning of any household waste. What if I just want to burn my grass clippings and leaves? Just like your household waste, whether or not you can burn grass clippings and leaves depends on some variables. For one, burning grass clippings and leaves is illegal in any community that has a population over 7500 (unless otherwise authorized by local ordinance). Although this regulation may seem restrictive, burning grass and leaves releases contaminants into the air, such as particulates, carbon monoxide and volatiles, which are harmful to human health and the environment.

Is burning my old barn legal? The rules and regulations governing the open burning of structures are very explicit – allowing such burning for fire suppression training only. There is a notion that open burning of structures is preferable to demolition – this is not the case. In any circumstance where a structure is being removed, the proper notification and removal of regulated materials – such as asbestos – must be completed before any other action is taken. OK, so no trash, leaves, grass or structures. What about brush and stumps? Under Rule 310 of the Michigan Air Pollution Control Rules, the burning of trees, logs, brush, and stumps is permitted in most of the state if it is not closer than 1,400 feet to an incorporated city or village limit. In addition, the burning must not violate any other department rules. This means you are not allowed to burn trees and stumps within a city or village.  Outside city and village limits, open burning still has stipulations – even for allowable materials. In most cases – regardless of the material – a burn permit is required from either the local municipality or the state. Before you burn, go to www.michigan.gov/burnpermit. For more information on open burning rules in the state, go to www.michigan.gov/openburning.


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