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Open Burning Frequently Asked Questions


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What is legal open burning by a homeowner?
Burning of small amounts of cut or fallen branches, limbs, or shrubbery from your residence (limited to 27 cubic feet at one time).  This activity is allowable from Oct 1- Apr 30 and is permitted between 8 am and 4 pm.

Burning of clean, unpainted, untreated, unstained wood in the following types of fires is allowable at any time of day, 365 days per year, except for Air Quality Action days and days when burning is banned by the Delaware State Fire Marshal:

  • Cooking fires (limited to 10 cubic feet  at one time)
  • Campfires, patio fire pits, or chimenea (limited to 27 cubic feet at one time)
  • Ceremonial bonfires conducted by established groups such as schools, churches, or other recognized organizations (limited to 27 cubic feet at one time)

What is illegal open burning by a homeowner?

  • Burning of fallen leaves, trash or garbage, grass clippings, tires, or other materials not listed above.
  • Burning of large quantities of material at one time (greater than 27 cubic feet at one time).
  • Burning during the Ozone Season (May 1-Sept. 30 annually).
    • Except cooking fires, campfires, or ceremonial bonfires.
  • Burning during a State Fire Marshall burn ban.
  • Burning on an Air Quality Action Day.

How does illegal open burning harm the environment?
Open burning is harmful because it:

  • Emits toxic chemicals into the air we breathe. Rain eventually washes these toxic chemicals onto our land and into our waterways.
  • Forms ground-level ‘bad' ozone (smog)  which can degrade building materials and damage crops and other vegetation.
  • Contributes to acid rain. Acid rain causes fish kills, plant and property damage.
  • Can cause cancer, heart and lung damage, and has been linked to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
  • Increases your chances of catching colds, the flu, and other diseases.
  • Can trigger asthma attacks and other respiratory problems, and eye irritation.

Why is open burning of trash and leaves regulated?
There are several important reasons why Delaware regulates open burning:

  • Many harmful chemicals are produced and released into the air when trash and leaves are burned. Some of these chemicals are toxic to people, animals, and plants. In addition, some of these chemicals react with nitrogen oxides in the air to produce ozone especially during hot, sunny weather. This ground-level ozone contributes to smog, haze, and reduced visibility; and is a respiratory irritant that is particularly dangerous to children and the elderly. It can cause serious eye irritation and is one of the main air pollutants that damage crops and natural vegetation. Ozone is also a powerful oxidizing agent that causes bleaching and deterioration of many textiles and building materials.
  • Outdoor burning often exposes surrounding property to fire hazard.
  • Outdoor burning often subjects neighboring residents to nuisance conditions of smoke and odor that infringe on their right to enjoy or use their property, and their right to breathe clean air.
  • In order to meet the air quality goals of the federal Clean Air Act Amendments of 1990, it became necessary to put tighter restrictions on open burning.

Are there seasonal burning restrictions?
There is a restriction against ALL open burning during the Ozone Season (May 1-Sept. 30) with the exception of cooking fires, recreational campfires, and ceremonial bonfires. 

I  have been burning my leaves for years. Is this legal? What types of air pollutants are emitted from burning leaves?
The burning of leaves has been prohibited statewide since 1995. The purpose of the prohibition is to lower your exposure to toxic and cancer-causing chemicals. The burning of leaves produces a considerable amount of airborne particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and at least seven known carcinogens. One of the most notorious carcinogens is benz[a]pyrene, a polyaromatic hydrocarbon. Benz[a]pyrene is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer caused by cigarette smoke. It is also formed when leaves are burned. Like the secondhand smoke from cigarettes, benz[a]pyrene from leaf burning endangers us all.

What is particulate matter, and why is it a health concern?
The visible smoke from burning is composed of tiny particles that contain toxic pollutants. If inhaled, these microscopic particles can reach deep into the lungs and remain there for months or even years. Breathing particulate matter increases the chances of respiratory infection, and causes other problems such as coughing, wheezing, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Particulate matter can also trigger asthma attacks in some people.

What is carbon monoxide, and what are its health effects?
Carbon monoxide is a colorless, odorless gas which prevents oxygen from being absorbed by the blood and lungs. Carbon monoxide can be especially dangerous for young children with immature lungs, the elderly, and people with chronic heart conditions or lung diseases.

What should I do with household trash, garbage and leaves?
Recycle glass, plastics, aluminum, and other recyclable materials via curbside recycling. Take your non-recyclable trash to a licensed landfill or enroll in a trash collection service.
Compost.  Start a compost pile. You can compost most organic material including leaves, grass clippings and vegetables, etc. The compost will provide excellent nutrients for gardens.
See your community’s waste hauler or town manager about leaf collection, if you can't compost them.

My neighbors burn trash in barrels regularly. Should it continue unreported?
Absolutely not! To repeat: Burning trash is illegal. Since 1968, Delaware has prohibited the burning of trash by individual property owners, and by commercial, industrial, and governmental facilities. Burning trash leads to very high levels of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other toxic chemicals. Indeed, burning trash (especially products such as plastics, rubber, and other synthetic materials) generates extremely toxic air pollutants.

An EPA study has also shown that trash/garbage burning emits "furans" and other deadly chemicals (such as dioxin) and "heavy metals" including lead, cadmium, chromium, etc., some of which are known to cause structural damage in the heart and associated muscle tissue in both adults and fetuses.

So if you’re aware that a neighbor, or anyone else in Delaware, is flouting the state’s open burning regulations, civic conscience calls for reporting them. Violators also will be targeted by DNREC’s Environmental Protection Officers. Penalties range from $100-$500, plus a possible criminal record with conviction. To report illegal burning, citizens can call the 24-hour Open Burning Hotline at 1-800-662-8802. Verizon cell phone customers can call toll-free #DNR.

For more information, contact:

Gerald Mood

revised: 06/10/16



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