Up in Smoke

Ever wonder what happens to the stuff that gets burned in the back yard burn barrels across the county? While burning reduces the piles of garbage and debris to ashes, the fire burns at such low temperature (less than 500° F) that is fails to destroy the chemicals contained in the items being burned. Instead, these fires transform solid waste into gaseous, hazardous chemicals that are released into the air we breathe. 

Without getting too detailed in the chemistry of it all, here’s a list of the most common lethal chemicals found in burn barrel emissions and some of the health impacts associated with them:

Dioxin – causes cancer, including breast cancer; linked to birth defects and reproductive disorders; diabetes; learning disabilities; immune system suppression; lung problems; skin disorders and brain damage;

Furans – associated with dermal, ocular and neurological effects in humans including brain damage;

Lead – exerts toxic effects on the nervous system, including brain damage;

PCBs – cause reproductive/developmental disorders; cancers of the hepato-biliary tract; cardiovascular, hepatic and endocrine/thyroid effects; and brain damage;

Flame retardants – contribute to learning, memory and behavioral problems and brain damage;

Methyl metals, mercury – These are volatile, combustible fragrant esters used in the production of hard alloys and electroplating. Principal target of these poisonous elements is the nervous system. Inorganic compounds of aluminum, arsenic, lead, lithium, manganese, mercury and thallium are well-known for their neurological and behavioral effects including brain damage;

Benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylene, 1,2,4-trimethylbenzene, cyclohexylbenzene, and dimethylnaphthalene – these are the Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs) that are now the “glues” that hold the essential ingredients together of nearly every product manufactured in today’s marketplace; especially plastic and other synthetic materials. The benzene group of chemicals are carcinogens considered internationally as among the most hazardous compounds to ecosystems and human health.

Is it just coincidence that a common effect from all these chemical byproducts of burning is brain damage. Let’s all think about that while we still can.


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