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For Release: IMMEDIATE

Contact: Lori Severino (518) 402-8000

Monday, October 5, 2009


Initiative Will Reduce Pollutants, Risks of Wildfires

Taking a step to reduce harmful air pollutants and help prevent wildfires, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has extended restrictions on the open burning of residential waste effective Oct. 14. The open burning of residential waste will be prohibited in all communities statewide, regardless of population, with exceptions for burning tree limbs and branches at limited times and other certain circumstances (detailed below). Previously, the ban applied only in towns with populations of 20,000 or more. The New York State Environmental Board approved this state regulation on Sept. 1.

Chairman of the Environmental Board and Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis said: “Burning household trash is dangerous on several levels. It can release potentially dangerous compounds – dioxins and other potential carcinogens – from materials burned in backyard fires. And it is the largest single cause of wildfires in the state.”

Once considered harmless, recent studies demonstrate that open burning releases substantial amounts of dangerous chemicals into the air. A study by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in conjunction with DEC and the New York State Department of Health, found that emissions of dioxins and furans from backyard burning alone were greater than those from all other sources combined for the years 2002-04. Trash containing plastics, polystyrene, pressure-treated and painted wood and bleached or colored papers produce harmful chemicals when burned. The study found that burning trash emits arsenic, carbon monoxide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, lead, and hydrogen cyanide, among others.

“While bygone generations burned their garbage, that practice now must end. Decades ago, garbage didn’t contain plastics, foils, batteries, paper bleached with chlorine and other materials used today,” Commissioner Grannis said.

In addition to releasing pollutants, open burning is the largest single cause of wildfires in New York State. Data from DEC’s Forest Protection Division show that debris burning accounted for about 40 percent of wildfires between 1986 and 2006 – more than twice the next most-cited source. In 2006 alone, debris burning triggered 98 wildfires in the state.



“The extension of the ban on open burning to all municipalities in New York will afford people living in all communities the chance to breathe air that is free from the contaminants that are byproducts of open fires,” said Michael Seilback, Vice President of Public Policy and Communications at the American Lung Association in New York. “We thank and commend Commissioner Grannis and the DEC for adopting these regulations that will undoubtedly improve the quality of the air we all breathe and improve the lives of people suffering from asthma and lung disease.”

“We have known for many years that open burning of garbage releases toxic fumes and poses a serious fire hazard,” said Laura Haight, NYPIRG’s senior environmental associate. “Burn barrels are considered the major uncontrolled source of dioxin, a potent cancer-causing chemical that is created when plastic and other materials are burned together. We applaud Commissioner Grannis and his department for taking this critically important action to protect our health.”

Jackson Morris, Air & Energy Program Director for Environmental Advocates of NewYork said, “We commend DEC for finalizing the state’s new open burning regulations. This rule will result in immediate, on-the-ground improvements in air quality, as the open burning of household waste spews volumes of toxics into our air. Millions of New Yorkers will breathe easier with this rule on the books.”

Open burning of residential wastes in any city or village or in any town with a population of 20,000 or more has been prohibited since 1972. DEC moved to expand the prohibition to all communities after holding meetings to receive input from stakeholders and state agencies. A proposal was released in May 2008 and was followed up with public hearings and an extended public comment period. Approximately 1,800 comments were reviewed by DEC.

As a result of public comments, modifications were made to the original proposal to include an exemption for burning of tree limbs and branches in smaller municipalities during certain times of the year.

The regulation bans all open burning except for the following:

  • On-site burning of limbs and branches between May 15th and the following March15th in any town with a total population less than 20,000.
  • Barbecue grills, maple sugar arches and similar outdoor cooking devices.
  • Small cooking and camp fires.
  • On-site burning of organic agricultural wastes, but not pesticides, plastics or other non-organic material.
  • Liquid petroleum fueled smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops.
  • Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires.
  • Disposal of a flag or religious item.
  • Burning on an emergency basis of explosive or other dangerous or contraband by police, etc.
  • Prescribed burns performed according to state regulations.
  • Fire training with some restrictions on the use of acquired structures.
  • Individual open fires to control plant and animal disease outbreaks as approved by DEC upon the request by the Commissioner of Agriculture and Markets.
  • Open fires as necessary to control invasive plant and insect species.



Towns totally or partially within the boundaries of the Adirondack and Catskill Parks are designated fire towns under Environmental Conservation Law. The law prohibits open burning without a written permit from the DEC. On-site open burning of limbs and branches allowed under the new regulation still requires a permit if it occurs in a fire town. To find out if your town is a Fire Town and/or to obtain a permit, contact your local DEC Forest Ranger. A list of rangers and their phone numbers may be obtained by calling 518-897-1300.

In addition to the open burning regulation, the Environmental Board also approved two additional rule proposals – a regulation that requires automobiles to include environmental performance label standards and a regulation that sets new limits on emissions of smog-causing Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) from 11 new categories of consumer products.

A complete outline of common questions and answers on the new regulation is available at on the DEC website.  (For general information on keeping our air clean see at the DEC website.)



Express Terms

6 NYCRR Part 215, Open Fires

6 NYCRR Part 191, Forest Fire Prevention

6 NYCRR Part 621, Uniform Procedures

6 NYCRR Part 215, Open Fires

Existing Part 215 is repealed.

A new Part 215 is added as follows:

215.1 Definitions

215.2 Prohibitions

215.3 Exceptions and restricted burning

Section 215.1 Definitions.

(a) Open Fire – Any outdoor fire or outdoor smoke producing process from which air contaminants are emitted directly into the outdoor atmosphere. Open fires include burning in barrels or modified barrels. Open fires do not include burning in outdoor furnaces or boilers that are used to heat buildings when the devices are actually used for such purpose.

(b) Agricultural Land – The land and on-farm buildings, equipment, manure processing and handling facilities, and practices that contribute to the production, preparation and marketing of crops, livestock and livestock products as a commercial enterprise, including a ‘commercial horse boarding operation’ and ‘timber processing’. Such farm operation may consist of one or more parcels of owned or rented land, which parcels may be contiguous or noncontiguous to each other.

(c) Camp Fire – A camp fire or any other outdoor open fire less than three feet in height, and less than four feet in length and width or diameter.

(d) Agricultural Waste – Any waste from naturally grown products such as vines, trees and branches from orchards, leaves and stubble. In addition, any fully organic waste either grown or generated on the premises, including but not limited to paper feed bags, wood shavings used for livestock bedding, bailing twine, and other non-plastic materials. Agricultural waste does not include pesticide containers, fertilizer bags, large plastic storage bags (including bags commonly known as “Ag bags”), offal, tires, plastic feed bags, and other plastic or synthetic materials.

(e) Acquired Structure – A structure donated or loaned from a property owner for the purpose of conducting fire training.

(f) Untreated wood – For the purposes of this Part, any wood or lumber which is not chemically treated, coated, stained, sealed, glued or otherwise adulterated. Untreated wood does not include such materials as pressure treated lumber, plywood, particle board, fiberboard, and oriented strand board.

(g) On-site burning – The burning of material, grown or generated on a particular property, in an open fire on the same property. For purposes of this definition, the “same property” shall include only property that is geographically contiguous and under the control or ownership of the same person.

Section 215.2 Prohibitions.

Except as allowed by section 215.3 of this Part, no person shall burn, cause, suffer, allow or permit the burning of any materials in an open fire.

Section 215.3 Exceptions and restricted burning.

Burning in an open fire, provided it is not contrary to other law or regulation, will be allowed as follows:

(a) On-site burning in any town with a total population less than 20,000 of downed limbs and branches (including branches with attached leaves or needles) less than six inches in diameter and eight feet in length between May 15th and the following March 15th.

For the purposes of this subdivision, the “total population” of a town shall include the population of any village or portion thereof located within the town. However, this subdivision shall not be construed to allow burning within any village.

(b) Barbecue grills, maple sugar arches and similar outdoor cooking devices when actually used for cooking or processing food.

(c) Small fires used for cooking and camp fires provided that only charcoal or untreated wood is used as fuel and the fire is not left unattended until extinguished.

(d) On-site burning of agricultural wastes as part of a valid agricultural operation on contiguous agricultural lands larger than five acres actively devoted to agricultural or horticultural use, provided such waste is actually grown or generated on those lands and such waste is capable of being fully burned within a 24-hour period.

(e) The use of liquid petroleum fueled smudge pots to prevent frost damage to crops.

(f) Ceremonial or celebratory bonfires where not otherwise prohibited by law, provided that only untreated wood or other agricultural products are used as fuel and the fire is not left unattended until extinguished.

(g) Small fires that are used to dispose of a flag or religious item, and small fires or other smoke producing process where not otherwise prohibited by law that are used in connection with a religious ceremony.

(h) Burning on an emergency basis of explosive or other dangerous or contraband materials by police or other public safety organization.

(i) Prescribed burns performed according to Part 194 of this Title.

(j) Fire training, including firefighting, fire rescue, and fire/arson investigation training, performed under applicable rules and guidelines of the New York State Department of State’s Office of Fire Prevention and Control. For fire training performed on acquired structures, the structures must be emptied and stripped of any material that is toxic, hazardous or likely to emit toxic smoke (such as asbestos, asphalt shingles and vinyl siding or other vinyl products) prior to burning and must be at least 300 feet from other occupied structures. No more than one structure per lot or within a 300 foot radius (whichever is bigger) may be burned in a training exercise.

(k) Individual open fires as approved by the Director of the Division of Air Resources as may be required in response to an outbreak of a plant or animal disease upon request by the Commissioner of the Department of Agriculture and Markets, or for the destruction of invasive plant and insect species.

(l) Individual open fires that are otherwise authorized under the environmental conservation law, or by rule or regulation of the Department.

6 NYCRR Part 191, Forest Fire Prevention

Sections 191.1 and 191.5 are repealed

Sections 191.2-191.4 are renumbered to be sections 191.1-191.3

6 NYCRR Part 621, Uniform Procedures

Subdivision (g) of section 621.1 is amended to read as follows:

(g) Air Pollution Control, ECL article 19, (implemented by 6 NYCRR Parts 201, 203, [215,] and 231): including construction and operation of a new emission source or a modification to an existing emission source of air contamination, and construction of indirect sources of air contamination [and restricted open burning for air pollution control purposes (Note: permits for restricted open burning for the purpose of forest fire control, under authority of section 9-1105 of the Environmental Conservation Law and 6 NYCRR Part 191, are not subject to this Part)];

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