Should we be burning leaves and other garden waste?
If tobacco smoke is toxic, wouldn’t other kinds of smoke be toxic also?
Attitudes to smoking have changed over the last hundred years. In the 1990’s, doctors proved that tobacco smoke causes lung cancer, not only in the smoker but also in other people. So, countries all over the world, including Jamaica, have placed bans on smoking in public places.
In Jamaica, we like to tidy the yard by raking up leaves and other garden waste and burning them. Perhaps we should reconsider this practice. Smoke produced in this way is even more toxic than tobacco smoke. It is a mixture of particles and chemicals produced by incomplete burning of carbon-containing materials. All smoke contains carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, many different chemicals, and particulate matter (PM or soot). Inhaling carbon monoxide decreases the body's oxygen supply. This can cause headaches, reduce alertness, and aggravate a heart condition known as angina.
Heat from a fire makes the smoke go up in the air, but when it hits cooler air, a lot of the chemicals condense and gradually fall to the ground. The smoke is spread out by wind and air currents in areas where people live, so it is hard for them to avoid breathing it in.
Source: Particulate Matter Basics US EPA
Very small particles are those which measure 2.5 microns or less. (10,000 microns = 1cm.) They are about a quarter the size of a red blood cell and would even look small under a microscope. They can seep through cracks in closed doors and windows. They can get deep into the lungs and possibly into the blood. Inhaling fine particles can cause a variety of health effects, including respiratory irritation and shortness of breath, and can worsen medical conditions such as asthma and heart disease.
Other health impacts of open burning include increased infant mortality, low birth weight of babies, onset of childhood asthma, coughs, and wheezing. While the seriousness of these depends on how close people are to fires, how long fires persist and the number of fires people are exposed to, open burning increases risk of death among the general population, particularly the elderly, children, and those with preexisting respiratory and cardiac illnesses.
The alternatives to burning garden waste include:
1. Composting – all garden waste will gradually decompose. It will decompose more quickly if it is broken into smaller pieces, kept moist and layered with kitchen waste such as fruit and vegetable peelings, in a compost pile or bin.
di In districts where there is garbage collection, it can be bagged and put out to be collected.
N.B. We should never burn garbage. The smoke from it is more toxic than that from garden waste. It should be bagged and put out to be collected. Where there is no garbage collection, it should be buried far from water sources.