Backyard campfires– a real risk

Mar. 13, 2021  PLYMOUTH VOICE.

Plymouth Michigan News




Maybe it’s time to re-think the virtue of open burning in our community.

The recent popularity and proliferation of backyard campfires and wood burning fire pits raises renewed health concerns.

Neighbors and neighborhoods are being subjected to the harmful effects of the smoke, as wood burning remains legal in many urban counties and municipalities, despite the fact that wood smoke can adversely affect the health of one’s family.

In Michigan, open burning is regulated by the Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Act of 1994 and accordingly state air quality and solid waste regulations prohibit open burning that creates smoke or odor nuisances.

According to The Michigan Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (EGLE) the air pollution created by open burning can irritate eyes, lungs and obscure visibility and create annoying odors or pose other serious or health threats.

Local units of government, such as a city, county or township often regulate burning through local laws. Local open burning laws take precedence over state regulations only if they are more restrictive. EGLE categorizes open burning regulation as it applies to municipalities, for example, burning of grass clippings and leaves, brush, trees, yard waste, building materials and campfires.

Many large cities, and communities in metropolitan Detroit and some states responded to warnings by medical experts in the late 1960s and early 1970s by banning all leaf burning after discovering the burning of raked leaves in the autumn can spell big trouble for asthma sufferers and victims of respiratory disease. However, over the years regulations and prohibitions were relaxed and overturned as community leaders ignored the growing risks of wood burning smoke and open backyard fires.

A popular trend today, especially with people spending more time at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, is to turn the family back yard into a cozy oasis for outdoor entertaining. The CDC now recommends hosting gatherings outdoors to allow for social distancing. Big box hardware stores can’t keep fire pit contraptions in stock.

The American Lung Association says while many people enjoy the look and smell of a backyard fire, wood burning not only creates harmful air pollution, but no fire is a healthy fire. Older adults and people suffering from heart or lung disease, such as congestive heart failure, angina, chronic pulmonary disease, emphysema or asthma may experience negative health effects earlier and at lower smoke levels than healthy people. Children are also most at risk from wood burning smoke as their respiratory systems are still developing and more likely to be active outdoors.

Be a good neighbor.

It’s important to check the local bylaws and talk with your neighbors before setting out a wood burning fire pit. Be considerate and understanding that your fires may cause health issues for them. Even if they don’t have health conditions, let your neighbors know you are going to have a fire so they can close windows. Closing windows, however, will not prevent wood smoke from entering homes and affecting neighbors with respiratory conditions.

Scientists report short-term exposure to fine particles in the air can aggravate lung disease, trigger asthma attacks and acute bronchitis, and may also increase the risk of respiratory infections. They have also linked short-term exposures to heart attacks and abnormal heartbeats. Over time, breathing fine particles in the air increases the chances of developing chronic obstructive lung disease (COPD), chronic bronchitis, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. Wood smoke can permanently damage lung tissue.

We think this is an important topic for discussion at local administrative board meetings. Now is the time to ask your city and township leaders, fire marshals, fire chiefs, trustees and council members to review and enact new safe and meaningful open burning regulations for the benefit of all.


Plymouth Voice.

Gallery Photo: Bigstock


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