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Ban the Burn Barrels! 

Evaluation of Emissions from the Open Burning of Household Waste In Barrels
Volume 1. Technical Report & Volume 2. Appendices A-G. 
Report No. EPA-600/R-97-134a. Nov97 

 

Prepared by: Paul M. Lemieux, U.S. EPA, National Risk Management Research Laboratory, Air Pollution Prevention and Control Division, Research Triangle Park, NC 27711
In cooperation with: N.Y. State Department of Health, Bureau of Toxic Substances Assessment and N.Y. State Department of Health, Wadsworth Center for Laboratories & Research, Albany, NY 12202
Prepared for: U.S. EPA, Office of Research & Development, Washington, DC 20460
Available from: National Technical Information Service, Springfield, VA 22161. Tel: 703-605-6000.
Cost: Volume 1 (NTIS # PB98127343) = $29.50; Volume 2 (NTIS # PB98127350) = $36. Add $5 Postage (the postage is the same for ordering either both volumes or just one.)

The researchers found very high emissions of volatile organic compounds (particularly benzene), poly aromatic hydrocarbons, chlorinated benzenes and dioxins and furans, simply by burning household trash in a burn barrel. Surprisingly, they found more dioxins and furans emerging from trash from households which had pursued aggressive recycling! (See # 1 below.) For each of these pollutant categories they worked out how many burn barrels (burning 3 to 1 I pounds of household waste) was equivalent to the emissions from a "modern, well-controlled" 200 ton-per-day trash incinerator. Their calculations are startling and summarized in the table below (see table 4-2, page 64 of the report):

Number of household burn barrels to equal pollution from a full-scale 200 tpd municipal solid waste incinerator facility.

                       Avid  
                     Recycler   Non-Recycler
PCDD (dioxins)          4.15      1.55
PCDF (furans)           1.03     11.65
CBs (chlorobenzenes)  140.00    100.00
PAHs                   83.80      9.31
VOCs                    0.07      0.01

However, we should point out that their reference trash incinerator was the 2,000 tpd facility in Hartford, CT, scaled down to 200 tpd. Choosing this facility, which gave some of the lowest emissions recorded in the U.S., somewhat distorts the picture. Tom Webster and Paul Connett recently tabulated the dioxin emissions for all the U.S. incinerators measured, and calculated the total annual emissions on a yearly basis from 1985 to 1995 (2). Converting the 1993 dioxin emission figures for N.Y. state incinerators they got the following burn barrel equivalent (using the non-recycler burn barrel emissions in this report):

                            Grams of dioxin    Burn Barrel
               Tons-per-day     TEQ/year       equivalent
Albany               750          7.60           4091
Babylon              750          0.02             11
Dutchess County      400          0.13             68
Hempstead           2505          0.07             37
Hudson Falls         432          0.40            214
Huntington           750          0.18             95
Islip                510          0.03             16
Long Beach           200         46              2455
Niagara Falls       2200         96.0          50,000
Oneida County        200          2.5            1318
Oswego County        200          1.9            1000
Peekskill           2250         10.0            5455

Some caveats are in order here. Many of these dioxin emissions are based upon very limited test data, particularly the newer plants where the emissions were obtained from the tests made prior to the plant's receiving their operating permit. Such measurements are made when the plant is brand new and when its being operated under ideal conditions. These test results probably don't represent the emissions under routine conditions, and certainly not under upset conditions. There is also the question of whether the trash stream used during the emission testing was representative of their day-to-day operations (i.e., many MSW incinerators accept medical waste, outdated pharmaceuticals, industrial and hazardous wastes, etc.).

Furthermore, we suspect that burn barrels do not have the same potential to add to the long distance transport of dioxins, and hence add to the cumulative impact on the foodchains, as in the case with incinerators with tall stacks. (However, it is mainly the rural areas where the majority of householders burn their own trash. St. Lawrence County in NY State, where we live, is generally ranked as the number 1 or 2 dairy producing county in the state. The overwhelming majority of residents who live in the towns have burn barrels, which are more often than not placed nearer the pasture than the house. Also, dairy farms have more and more plastic wastes that are generally burned on-site.) In our view, it is clear that burn barrels are capable of putting out high dioxin emissions into the local environment and we support the call for a nationwide ban on the burning of household trash in burn barrels. We hope the U.S. EPA has the courage to push this through. Meanwhile, the NY DEC and the NY DOH, co-sponsors of this report, could set a good national example by banning burn barrels in NY state.

This report further underlines the fact that we will not get rid of the dioxin menace, simply by putting better air pollution control devices on incinerators. The situation is particularly alarming in developing countries where enormous amounts of trash are burned at the side of the road and in tires set at landfills. In our view, the only realistic way of solving this dioxin problem is to get chlorinated products out of commerce, and chlorine out of the chemical industry. The best place to start is with a ban on PVC. As long as this horrendous plastic (over 50% chlorine by weight, and stuffed with health threatening additives) enters the market place, dioxins will continue to enter our food, our bodies, and our babies.

1. "This study evaluated two separate waste streams: that of an avid recycler, who removes most of the recyclable content from the waste stream prior to combustion; and that of a non-recycler, who combusts the entire stream of household waste... From estimates of waste generated each day by New York households for the avid recycler and non-recycler scenarios, emissions per day of PCDDs/PCDFs are significantly higher for the avid recycler... This phenomenon is likely due to several factors, including the higher mass fraction of PVC in the avid recycler's waste..." (From the Abstract, page ii of report.)

Table 2-1. Composition of household waste prepared by EPA (based on a characterization of household waste prepared by the NY State DEC). (Page 6)

PAPER		                         Non-Recycler (%)      Avid Recycler (%)
Newspaper, books, and office paper           32.8             3.3
Magazines and junk mail                      11.1              -
Corrugated cardboard and kraft paper          7.6              -
Paperboard, milk cartons, and drink boxes    10.3            61.9
PLASTIC RESIN
(all types may contain trace plasticizers: e.g., cadmium)
PET # 1 (bottle bill)                         0.6              -
HDPE: # 2, LDPE # 4, and Polypropylene # 5    6.6            10.4
PVC: # 3                                      0.2             4.5
Polystyrene: # 6                              0.1             0.3
MIXED # 7                                     0.1             0.3
FOOD WASTE                                    5.7              -
TEXTILE/LEATHER                               3.7              -
WOOD (treated/untreated)                      1.1             3.7
GLASS/CERAMICS
Bottles/jars (bottle bill)                    9.7              -
Ceramics (broken plates and cups)             0.4             6.9
METAL- FERROUS
Iron - cans                                   7.3             4.0
NON-FERROUS
Aluminum - cans (bottle bill), foil, other    1.7             1.0
Other non-iron (wire, copper pipe, batteries) 1.1             3.7
PERCENT TOTAL                                100.0          100.0
TOTAL WEIGHT GENERATED PER HOUSEHOLD       4.9 kg/day       1.5 kg/day
FOR DISPOSAL IN BURN BARRELS 

2. Webster, T. and Connett, P. (1997), Dioxin Emission Inventories and Trends: The Importance of Large Point Sources. Presented in part at Dioxin '96, Amsterdam, August 1996 and submitted for publication to Chemosphere.

Source: Waste Not # 427 Published 48 times a year. Annual rates: Groups & Non-Profits $50; Individuals $40; Students & Seniors $35; Consultants & For-Profits $125; Canadian $US45; Overseas $65. Editors: Ellen & Paul Connett, 82 Judson St., Canton NY 13617. Tel: 315-379-9200. Fax: 315-379-0448. Email: wastenot@northnet.org

 

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