Occasionally, the Pima County Department of Environmental Quality (PDEQ) receives complaints from community members regarding the burning of trash in their neighborhood. Smoke from any type of fire can affect your health, but smoke from burning garbage can be especially dangerous and highly polluting. In most cases, the burning of household garbage is prohibited within Pima County.
Information from a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency study showed that smoke from burning trash can contain particulate matter and many different harmful chemicals including, carbon monoxide, hydrogen chloride, hydrogen cyanide, benzene, styrene, formaldehyde, arsenic, lead, chromium, dioxins, furans and PCBs, depending on what is being burned.
Substances such as particulate matter, carbon monoxide and formaldehyde can cause immediate health effects with enough exposure. Other chemicals, such as dioxin, can build up in your body with each exposure. The chemicals found in burning trash can remain in the environment and on property (for example, the soil outside and dust brought inside the home) for a long period of time.
Besides the unpleasant odor associated with burning garbage, people exposed to the smoke from burn barrels can experience irritated eyes and sinuses, coughing, nausea, headaches, dizziness and asthma attacks. Individuals with heart and lung conditions, including those suffering or recovering from COVID-19, have a high potential for health effects if they breathe smoke from burning garbage. Young children may be at even greater risk than adults because of their playing behaviors when outside and their still-developing lungs. Repeated exposures to pollutants in smoke at any age may increase the risk of chronic health problems.
Unlawful trash burning is often done at night and the cooler overnight air traps the smoke and fumes close to the ground making breathing difficult for those nearby. In addition, the remaining ash from the fire can contain harmful chemicals and, depending on how it is handled, can become airborne during subsequent wind events.
Pima County regulations prohibit the burning of household trash unless a permit has been obtained from the appropriate Fire District or PDEQ and depending on the circumstances of the case.