Burning On The Farm

Don’t light up the burn barrel before checking with your local burning regulations. Penn State University Retired Ag Engineer Jim Garthe says old habits die hard, because open burning was the traditional form of waste disposal for many centuries.  However, items that were in the burn barrel then were benign materials. Today, we have a much bigger mix of refuse that can cause harm when it goes up in smoke.

"Pressure treated lumber gives off arsene gas, and also the ash that remains often have arsenic and other materials in it," says Garthe. " I would also not recommend foam building insulation. There's some pretty exotic material out there that are used, many of them give off very acrid smoke. Also, anything made of PVC.  Items that typically are bad would be vinyl siding, PVC pipe, garden hoses."

To protect our lungs and the environment, most local governments have put burning regulations in place. Before you strike the match, be sure to check the laws in your area, because what I can burn in my barrel might not be allowed in yours.

"That's normally at the municipal level, which in many states would be the county level, or at the municipal level within the county there would be townships," he says. "And often the townships have ordinances against burning, or you may find they have no ordinances."

Garthe believes there is a growing awareness that what people did years ago may not be the best thing to do now.  As an example, more people are hiring a local hauler to dispose of waste rather than just burning it.