Open Burning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

Open Burning during the COVID-19 Pandemic
Updated June 16, 2020

This document describes the public health risks of agricultural burning and backyard burning (together referred to as open burning), strategies to reduce smoke exposures from open burning during the COVID-19 pandemic, and resources that health officials, environmental health professionals, fire managers, and others can refer to when creating or adapting existing plans to manage open burning during the pandemic. It is intended for use by federal, state, territorial, local, and tribal jurisdictions in the United States and should be used in conjunction with existing open burning management plans, procedures, guidance, and resources.

What are the public health risks of open burning?

Smoke-related health effects
Open burning produces smoke that contains air pollutants. Exposure to these pollutants can worsen existing heart and lung conditions and have other harmful effects, including premature death.

People at higher risk of experiencing harmful health effects from smoke exposure include children, older adults, pregnant women, people with pre-existing heart and lung diseases, and people of low socioeconomic status. People with or recovering from COVID-19 may have diminished lung function and therefore might be at particularly high risk of respiratory health effects after exposure to smoke from open burning.

Burns and other fire-related injuries
Open burning can also lead to burns and other fire-related injuries. While a community is experiencing community transmission of COVID-19, first responders and other emergency services may be operating at reduced capacity and have limited resources to respond to injuries.

Uncontrolled fires
Uncontrolled fires are a direct threat to the community. While a community is experiencing community transmission of COVID-19, firefighters and other emergency services may be operating at reduced capacity and have limited resources to respond to uncontrolled fires.

What actions might reduce the public health risks of open burning?

Health officials, environmental health professionals, fire managers, and others should consult with their state, local, territorial, and tribal jurisdictions when creating or adapting open burning management plans and procedures to reduce smoke emissions and the risks of injuries and uncontrolled fires during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following actions should be considered:

Temporarily ban open burning
Consider implementing a temporary ban on open burning as a quick and effective way to reduce smoke exposure for people with COVID-19. Temporary open burning bans also reduce the risks of injury and uncontrolled fires. Implementing temporary open burning bans will require distribution of information on alternative methods for waste disposal.

Promote other waste disposal options
Distribute information about the availability and use of composting, landfill, recycling, and trash collection facilities that could potentially reduce the need for open burning as a method of waste disposal. Facilities should have safety precautions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19 to and from the public and to protect employees. Information about the availability of waste disposal options should be released in combination with information about the health effects of smoke exposure among individuals with respiratory infections to inform the public and promote best practices. 

Selected Resources

See https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html for more information about COVID-19.

Open burning, backyard burning, and agricultural burning

Composting and Recycling