Air Quality Health Index classroom kit, grades 5 and 6, environment: chapter 18

D. Avoid Burning

Yard filled with fallen leaves

If your yard gets covered in leaves and clippings, start a backyard compost instead of burning. Both the air and your garden will benefit. If your town has a community compost program, you can put your organic leftovers in the compost bin.

Reduce waste at its source by avoiding over-packaging, and recycle everything you can. Never burn plastics, tires, painted wood, and other garbage. They release toxic substances.

When using a wood stove or fireplace, make sure the burning is efficient so that it releases the least possible amount of smoke.

Tips for using a Wood Stove

  • Check the Air Quality Health Index (AQHI) before you consider burning. Never burn when the AQHI is already high.
  • Make sure your wood is properly seasoned in a dry place for at least six months. Wet wood produces lots of smoke.
  • Don’t burn wood that’s treated or painted. The same goes for driftwood. Driftwood smoke includes dioxins, which are highly toxic.
  • Don’t overload your stove with too much wood or starve the fire of air.
  • Don’t burn when the smoke won’t leave the area (e.g., during a temperature inversion).
  • Be aware of the no-burn periods in your community, and follow the rules.
Collage of four images: Emissions, trees, Flare stack and coal.

Did You Know?

Particulate matter (PM) comes from burning, regardless of whether it is a renewable or non-renewable resource.

PM2.5 is the biggest concern because it is so small that it travels all the way to the alveoli in the lungs. This is especially risky for at-risk populations such as children.

That is why PM2.5 is one of the three pollutants measured for the AQHI.

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