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Controversy erupts over DEC burn ban

ALBANY A proposed statewide ban on most all kinds of open burning has gained strong support from environmentalists and firefighters, but raised controversy in the Adirondacks and other areas where such regulations run counter to rural culture. The proposed state Dept. of Conservation rule would ban burning of household trash and lumber and most other types of open fires statewide, while currently a comprehensive ban on open burning exists only in cities villages and towns with population exceeding 20,000. Hearings on the proposed rule were just added last week and the public comment period was extended to Aug. 14. No hearings have been scheduled in the Adirondacks, however. The policy would ban both municipal and individual open burning, and limit agricultural burning to naturally grown products such as brush, branches, vines and leaves, while prohibiting man-made materials. Theres widespread agreement over the burning of residential waste, because trash commonly contains plastics which release persistent, potent toxic substances when burned. Lighting up a burn-barrel full of trash releases more dioxin, a potent mutagen and carcinogen, than a 200-ton-per-day trash burning plant with advanced filtration devices, studies have determined. But the DECs comprehensive ban has plenty of Adirondackers concerned, including Don Sage of Schroon Lake. He and others have questioned that burning of brush and clean timbers at municipal landfills would be prohibited. This is like an additional tax on small towns, he said, noting that the DEC had proposed the agency rule change after their efforts to pass a new law failed in the legislature. Its an idiotic idea all around for municipalities, farmers and landowners. Assemblywoman Teresa Sayward (R-Willsboro) said she supported the idea of protecting public health and promoting clean air, but was concerned the rules might excessively burden small towns and farmers. Warren County Board of Supervisors Chairman Fred Monroe, Supervisor of the Town of Chester, said the proposed policy would add to municipal waste disposal costs. He agreed that burning trash or any plastic is a public health threat, but its already illegal throughout the state, he said, and an ordinance in Chester prohibits the practice anyway. Without a doubt, this will add to all small towns disposal costs, he said. The real problem is that DEC isnt enforcing the regulations they now have on the books. Stony Creek Supervisor Frank Thomas agreed that burning trash should be banned but not brush and non-treated lumber. He said that DEC should better prioritize its air quality concerns, because trucking waste all over the state degraded air quality more dramatically than burning clean timber and brush. This proposal is over the top, he said. This makes it hard not only for our towns but for people who need to clear their land its kind of ridiculous. But Jackson Morris of Environmental Advocates said the stricter rules were vital. He said that the rules need to be restrictive because farmers and landowners were in some cases allowing tree stumps and moist debris to smolder for days. For years, some farmers have been burning waste hay wrapped in plastic, which releases substantial amount of toxins, and the practice should be stopped, he said. Weve been lobbying for years to get the loopholes closed in the existing archaic laws, he said. Exempted from the proposed ban are fires for training firefighters, small cooking and campfires, permitted bonfires, and ceremonial disposal of American flags. Firefighting organizations including the New York State Firemens Association have supported the proposed restrictions, citing that open burning is the single greatest cause of wildfires, and is a major contributor also to residential fires. DEC stresses that trash burning releases dioxin, furans, carbon monoxide, benzene, arsenic, lead, styrene, hydrogen cyanide, and formaldehyde into the air at hazardous levels. Their studies indicated that from 2002 to 2004, trash burning was responsible for more emissions of dioxins and furans than from all other sources combined. This is a public health issue, DEC Commissioner Peter Grannis said. The trash that is getting burned has become more complicated and damaging to air quality over the decades. The next public hearing is set for 5 p.m. Mon. Aug. 4 at Herkimer County Community College, followed by one on Aug. 5 at SUNY Canton. Although no more hearings will be held in the Capital Region, a list is available at www.dec.ny.gov/press/45045.html. Comments can also be submitted until 5 p.m. Aug. 14 to NYSDEC, Division of Air Resources, Attn: Robert Stanton, 625 Broadway, Albany NY 12233-3254. For more information on open burning, see www.dec.ny.gov/public/32064.html.

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