Illegal burning pollutes statewide

Illegal garbage burning—in open fires and burn barrels—is a persistent source of pollution in Minnesota, according to a feature story in the May–June Minnesota Conservation Volunteer magazine.


Burning garbage can release toxins into the surrounding air, soil and water, Henry Fisher of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) told the magazine. These toxins often include dioxin, a long-lasting carcinogen that can enter fish, wildlife, farm animals and ultimately humans as it works its way up the food chain. “The open burning of household waste … contributes to 50 percent of the known dioxins generated in the state,” Fisher said.


Small-scale backyard burning of household trash has a big cumulative impact, according to the story, “A Burning Problem” by managing editor Keith Goetzman. The modern waste stream contains chemicals, paints, coatings, foils and other compounds that make trash more toxic than it used to be, especially when burned. More than 33 percent of rural Minnesota residents said they burn trash in a 2010 MPCA survey.


Garbage fires also start many wildfires every year. Spring is fire season, and spring-cleaning may lead people to throw away and burn unwanted things. In the story, a DNR conservation officer and an MPCA inspector name some of the things they’ve found in illegal fires: plastics, rubber, furniture, mattresses, appliances, even a horse carcass.


Burning garbage has been illegal in Minnesota since the 1980s. Burn barrels built to legal specifications can be used to burn yard waste but never garbage. Minnesotans who suspect a potential burning violation can report it by calling the MPCA at 800-657-3864 or the TIP hotline at 800-652-9093.

Minnesota Conservation Volunteer is a reader-supported source of outdoor information and ideas. To subscribe to the print magazine, read it online, and peruse the online archive, go to Or subscribe by calling 888-646-6367.

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