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Web site educates on dangers of burning

For generations, Minnesotans, particularly in rural areas, have been burning their household trash. While many people now have their garbage picked up by a waste hauler or take it to a local drop-off site, nearly half of rural residents still burn their trash in burn barrels, fire pits, heaters, and stoves -- and that doesn't include the unknown number of city residents who still burn their trash.

Unfortunately, the content of trash has changed dramatically during the last 50 years. Even a plain white piece of paper isn't so benign. Paper is treated with chemicals and bleaching agents and the smoke from burning it can be harmful to human health and the environment.

Smoke from burn barrels includes heavy metals such as lead, cadmium and chromium that are in today's inks.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that one family burn barrel can emit as much dioxin (a known carcinogen) as a 200 ton-a-day municipal waste incinerator. In fact, backyard garbage burning is now the number one source of dioxin in the United States.

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) is heading up a statewide Burn Barrel Reduction campaign designed to get people to stop burning their garbage and find better -- and safer -- alternatives for their trash.

In addition to offering resources to citizens and local governments wishing to reduce backyard garbage burning in their area, the MPCA has updated its burn barrel Web site with new information on the health and environmental dangers of backyard garbage burning and options to safely dispose of it.

New and updated educational resources include fact sheets, radio PSAs and interactive displays such as Bernie the Burn Barrel who is a talking, "burning" burn barrel who educates people about the dangers of backyard garbage burning.

For more information about backyard garbage burning, financial and technical assistance available from the state, and the latest educational resources, go to or contact Mark Rust at 651-215-0198 or toll-free at 1-800-657-3864.