As defined in APCD Regulation 1.02: Definitions, "open burning" means "the burning of any matter in such a manner that the products of combustion resulting from the burning are emitted directly into the outside air without passing through a stack, chimney, vent, or other functionally equivalent opening."
While burning a pile of leaves or having a bonfire for a party may seem harmless, any fire releases harmful materials. Emissions from fires include irritating particles (PM10 and PM2.5), toxic chemicals, carbon dioxide (a greenhouse gas), carbon monoxide, oxides of nitrogen and volatile organic compounds. The last two can form ground-level ozone, especially on sunny days. Burning garbage can produce much larger quantities of toxic materials, such as dioxins.
These pollutants can
- cause or exacerbate asthma
- cause or exacerbate emphysema
- trigger a heart attack
- cause birth defects
- damage the nervous system
- cause other health problems
Children and the elderly are especially sensitive to the air pollutants produced by fires.
While sitting around a campfire is cozy and an ancient tradition, this is an urbanized area. With more than a million people in Kentuckiana, there would be a significant amount of pollution produced if people could have open fires any time they wanted to. And with any fire, there's the possibility of the fire getting out of control, risking lives, natural resources and property. For these reasons, open burning is generally prohibited in Louisville Metro/Jefferson County. Exceptions are described below.
APCD Regulation 1.11: Control of Open Burning prescribes under what conditions open burning is or can be permitted in Louisville Metro/Jefferson County. Fires are also subject to approval from your local fire department. Other laws and regulations may also apply, depending on the circumstances.
- You can have a fire to cook food for a non-commercial purpose (but read the regulation for details). You can help your community by not cooking out on an Air Quality Alert day. A fire that is larger than necessary for cooking or is kept burning longer than necessary for cooking is considered a recreational fire. The regulation excludes fires that are kept covered most of the time, as in a covered grill or a smoker. If you are cooking food for a commercial purpose, then you need to enclose and properly ventilate the cooking fire with a chimney or similar device. You are operating a restaurant or catering service and you need to follow Louisville Metro Health Department regulations for such a business.
- If you want to hold a recreational or ceremonial fire, such as a bonfire, you need to get a permit from APCD at least five working days ahead of time, and notify your local fire department. See the Recreational Fire Permit Application. Note that even with this approval, the fire cannot be held if the wind is faster than 15 MPH or it is an Air Quality Alert day. See frequently asked questions about recreational fires.
- Agricultural fires for controlling weeds, diseases or pests, etc. can be approved after written recommendations from the Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District and the local fire protection district, as can fires for management of forests, orchards, range, native grasslands or wildlife. See the Agricultural Burn Application.
- Fires can be set for fire-fighting training, if approved by APCD at least five working days in advance. See the Fire Training Burn Application.
- With an APCD operating permit, a flare can be used to burn off waste gases. The flare must have a smokeless tip and the opacity of the emissions cannot exceed 20 percent.
- There are various other exemptions in unusual circumstances. For example, certain materials may be burned in the open if the Department of Health & Wellness has declared that to be necessary for controlling a public health hazard.
Learn about alternatives to open burning.
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