Coronavirus

Open Burning during the COVID-19 Pandemic

During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. federal, state, territorial, local, and tribal jurisdictions should consider the following about open (“backyard”) burning: Public health risks of open burning Actions to reduce smoke exposures from open burning Resources that health officials, environmental health professionals, fire managers, and others can refer to use when creating or adapting existing plans…

During the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. federal, state, territorial, local, and tribal jurisdictions should consider the following about open (“backyard”) burning:

  • Public health risks of open burning
  • Actions to reduce smoke exposures from open burning
  • Resources that health officials, environmental health professionals, fire managers, and others can refer to use when creating or adapting existing plans to manage open burning during the pandemic

Use the following guidance along with your jurisdiction’s open burning management plans, procedures, guidance, and resources.

What are the public health risks of open burning?

Smoke-related health effects
The outdoor burning of household and yard waste (called “open burning” or “backyard 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 individuals living in areas of lower 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 burn injuries and other fire-related injuries. While a community is experiencing community transmission of COVID-19, first responders and other emergency services might be operating at reduced capacity and have limited resources to respond to injuries.

Uncontrolled fires
Open burning can lead to uncontrolled fires. Uncontrolled fires can be a direct threat to nearby communities. While a community is experiencing community transmission of COVID-19, firefighters and other emergency services might 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?

When creating or adapting management plans for the open burning of waste or creating 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 of waste
Consider implementing a temporary ban on open burning of waste as a quick and effective way to reduce smoke exposure for people with COVID-19. Temporary open burning bans might also reduce the risks of fire-related injury. Implementing temporary bans in open burning 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, landfills, recycling, and trash collection facilities that could 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. Information about the availability of waste disposal options should be released in combination with information about the health effects of smoke exposure to inform the public and promote best practices. 

NOTE: The interim guidance on this webpage does not apply to prescribed or controlled burningexternal icon used to manage natural resources or prevent wildfires. Consult with forestry experts and local, state, and federal land management agencies before making changes to prescribed burning policies.

Selected Resources

Composting and Recycling

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