Health effects from open burning of wastes. Due to inefficiencies of open combustion, emissions per mass of material burned are much greater from open burning than from controlled incineration of municipal solid waste (MSW). Comparative data are highly variable because of differences in burn conditions, the quality of incinerators, data quality and collection methods (Gullett et al. 2001; Lemieux 1997; Yasuhara et al. 2002). A study in the early 1990s showed about 20 times as much dioxin , 40 times as much particulate matter and many times more metal emissions from open burning (1994 report to US EPA cited in Lemieux 1997, p2). The differences are widening as higher standards are applied to municipal solid waste incineration. Between 1990-2000 emissions of dioxins and furans decreased about 99% and heavy metals, by more than 90% from 66 large municipal waste combustors (US EPA Office of Air Quality Planning and Standards cited in Environment Reporter. June 28, 2002. 33 (26): 1429).

Dioxins—one of the emissions of greatest concern even in very small quantities—are associated with disruption of multiple endocrine pathways, increased risk for ischemic heart disease, cognitive and motor disabilities, and endometriosis (Dalton et al. 2001; EPA 2000; Rier and Foster 2002; Vreugdenhil et al. 2002). They are also listed as a “known human carcinogen” in the 10th Program’s Report on Carcinogens (2002). Emerging research in animals and humans suggests that exposure to dioxins early in life may increase risk of breast cancer (Brown et al. 1998; Fenton et al. 2002; Warner et al. 2002). In addition to the health risks of dioxins, particulate emissions from open burning have been associated with many health effects, including increased risk of stroke (Colburn and Johnson 2003; Yun-Chul Hong et al. 2002). Some health effects are more likely to affect nearby communities, but more distant consumers exposed to these pollutants through the food system are also affected.

[Full publication]