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Open Burning Frequently Asked Questions


What is legal open burning by a homeowner?  

  • Cooking fires such as barbeque grills;
  • Campfires, patio fire pits, or chimenea.
  • Ceremonial bonfires conducted by established groups such as schools, Indian tribes, or other recognized organization.
  • Burning of small amounts (< 27 cubic feet of material) of yard waste/garden debris such as cut or fallen branches, limbs, or shrubbery from your residence. This size restriction represents the amount of yard waste and debris that can be reasonably extinguished with a garden hose.

Burn BarrelWhat is illegal open burning activity?

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

How does illegal open burning harm the environment?

  • Emits toxic chemicals into the air we breathe. Rain eventually washes these toxic chemicals onto our land and into our waterways.
  • Forms ‘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).
  • Increase 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.
  • Finally, 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. In Kent and New Castle Counties, where the ozone problem is classified as severe, all types of outdoor burning are banned, except campfires and cooking fires, during the months of June, July, and August.

Are there seasonal burning restrictions?

There is an additional restriction against ALL open burning during the Ozone Season (May 1-Sept. 30) with the exception of cooking fires (BBQs), 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 leaf 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, used motor oil, and other recyclable materials at the recycle igloos nearest you. Take your non-recyclable trash to a licensed landfill.
  • 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.

No Open BurningMy neighbors burn trash in barrels regularly. Should it continue unreported?

To repeat: Burning trash in burn barrels is illegal. Since 1968, Delaware has prohibited the burning of trash by individual property owners, and by commercial, industrial, and governmental facilities. Since burn barrels operate at relatively low temperatures typically 400 to 500 degrees Fahrenheit inefficient combustion occurs. This leads to very high levels of particulate matter, carbon monoxide, and other toxic chemicals. Indeed, burning trash in burn barrels especially products such as plastics, rubber, and other synthetic materials generate 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 neighbors, 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 $50-$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 at 302-739-9402 or

Last revised: 10/9/12

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