Leaf burning leads to severe air pollution and health problems. The open burning of leaves produces particulate matter and hydrocarbons, which contain a number of toxic, irritant, and cancer-causing compounds…
Burn a leaf hundreds of yards away and I can smell it immediately. My nose blocks up, my eyes water, nothing makes me feel worse. In 1989 it was one of the first things that the Environment Ministry banned. Unfortunately, even now it is fairly common to see smouldering heaps of leaves in every city and town by Government gardeners, municipal sweepers and house owners themselves in the corners of arks and at the ends of roads. In farms this is extremely common – farmers don’t just burn their own leaves but they burn the fallen leaves on the edges of their farms which come down from trees owned by the Government. This unmonitored burning usually kills the roadside trees.
The Forest Departments set fire
routinely to their forests in the name of leaf burning. This not only kills all the small animals and insects, it is 70 per cent of the reasons for all the raging forest fires in the country that takes thousands of acres of forest at a time. In my own constituency Pilibhit, I spent most of my time in summer putting out forest fires started by the forest rangers. They remain unconcerned by the fact that all the saplings die and the wild boar, monkeys and neelgai come into the fields because their food has been burnt. Don’t burn leaves. And don’t let others do it. It is a very wasteful and dangerous
Leaf burning leads to severe air
pollution and health problems. The open burning of leaves produces particulate matter and hydrocarbons, which contain a number of toxic, irritant, and cancer-causing compounds. Leaf smoke also contains carbon monoxide. Burning a ton of leaves will produce about 117 pounds of carbon monoxide, 41 pounds of particulates (most of them smaller than 10 microns and easily absorbed in the lungs), and at least seven highly carcinogenic polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. The 85% of the smoke from leaf burning is composed of tiny particles that contain a number of pollutants. When inhaled, these microscopic particles can reach the deepest regions of the lung and remain there for months or even years. Breathing particulate matter increases the chances of respiratory infection, reduces the volume of air inhaled and impairs the lungs’ ability to use that air. Particulate matter can also trigger asthma attacks and these irritating airborne smoke particles can aggravate heart and lung disease.
About 10 per cent of our population suffers from serious chronic lung diseases including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and emphysema. As much as coughing, wheezing, chest pain and shortness of breath — are symptoms that might not occur until several days after exposure to large amounts of leaf smoke. Hydrocarbons are chemicals that can exist as both gases and solid particles.
Because leaves are often moist and burn without proper air circulation, they often burn poorly, producing high levels of hydrocarbons. Some of these hydrocarbons, such as aldehydes and ketones, cause irritation of the eyes, nose, throat, and lungs. A substantial portion of the hydrocarbons in leaf smoke consists of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), some of which are known carcinogens. Benzoapyrene which is a Polynuclear hydrocarbons (PHN), is believed to be a major factor in lung cancer. It is found in cigarette smoke, coal tar as well as leaf smoke. As the leaves fall and become yellow, the amount of PHN increases three to five times. Additionally, burning leaf smoke also releases a variety of highly irritating, toxic chemicals such as ammonia, volatile organic compounds, nitrogen oxides and other toxic air contaminants.Carbon monoxide is an invisible gas that results from incomplete combustion, and burning leaf piles are ideal for creating carbon monoxide emissions. It is absorbed into the bloodstream through the lungs and combines with red blood cells, reducing the amount of oxygen the red blood cells can absorb and supply to body tissues. Unborn children, newborn infants, smokers, the elderly, and persons with heart and chronic lung disease are more susceptible to carbon monoxide.
Leaf burning in residential areas contaminates all the air around. Because the pollution is emitted at ground level, it is poorly dispersed and tends to be trapped in the stagnant air near the ground during the early evening, night, and early morning hours. As a result, pollution from a leaf burning pile can produce concentrations of smoke pollution at an as bad as the highest concentrations of smoke found around the most highly polluted industrial areas. Extensive leaf burning has been shown to cause community air pollution to exceed any allowed health and welfare air quality standards.
The burning of leaves also releases chemicals that contribute to smog formation. Smog causes oxygen levels in the blood to drop. When that happens, people are at greater risk for chest pain and heart attacks. Smog also degrades building materials and damages crops. It contributes to acid rain which causes fish kills, plant and property damage. Leaf burning causes serious damage to community property. The particle pollution can accumulate on surfaces causing material damage or the need for more frequent cleaning. Finally, the nitrogen and phosphorus released from burning leaves in the form of particulate matter washes into lakes damaging all our water resources. Leaf burning can also reduce visibility and create safety hazards. So you can see that the total health, financial, and environmental costs of leaf burning are high: higher incidences of health problems and increased health care costs; higher incidences of property loss and the clean-up costs associated with soiling of personal property. Leaves are a rich natural resource. You can either use them as mulch or compost:
1. Compost yard waste at home. Composting is a safe and environmentally sound method of managing leaves and grass trimmings and is a simple process that involves placing them and other organic materials in a pile or bin. Turning the leaf pile periodically allows for adequate amounts of moisture and air, encourages microbial growth and speeds decomposition. Adding manure or some other source of nitrogen to the leaves will help quicken the decomposing process. Then put this back onto the land. The nutrients from this pile can then turn a poor clay soil into a rich productive soil, and aerate compacted soil. Soil erosion is reduced. It helps soil retain moisture and nutrients as well as increases fertility. Compost is an organic fertilizer-the most fertile and cheap manure that the earth can want.
2. Shred the leaves and let them stay on your garden, vegetable or flowerbeds or around the trees. Mowing the leaves into smaller pieces provides several benefits. The leaf particles absorb water from the rain and from other moisture. Over time they release the absorbed water back into the grass and the surrounding area, like a sponge. This provides water during periods when water may not be available from rain fall or other sources. Also, after sometime, worms, bacteria, and other organisms, transform the leaves into rich nutrients which will continue to feed trees, shrubs and other plants year after year. Another use for leaves is protection from winds and bitter temperatures. If you cannot do this at home, why not get the community/locality involved and make a pit in several local parks which can produce the compost. Then everyone can share this manure. You can compost leaves, grass clippings, coffee and tea grounds and vegetable and fruit peelings.
Fallen leaves are one of our biggest resources. The old-fashioned practice of burning leaves not only pollutes our air and causes health problems, it also wastes many of the beneficial micronutrients contained in leaves. It is also illegal to burn them. Stop it in your colony and get your municipal corporation to get a community leaf pick up and composting services.