Can You Burn Leaves?
We get it. Sometimes you can reach a point in the fall where the amount of leaves in your yard is overwhelming, and it seems like the best idea is to just push them all into a pile and let them burn. Unfortunately, there are a few very good reasons why burning leaves is a very bad idea. Burning leaves can be bad for your health, it can potentially spread and it might even be illegal in your area.
Health Risks of Burning Leaves
Burning leaves release irritants into the air that can cause respiratory problems and other health issues. According to the EPA, burning leaves in an open area “produces particulate matter and hydrocarbons which contain a number of toxic, irritant, and carcinogenic (cancer causing) compounds”. The microscopic particles in the leaf smoke can find their way into the deepest parts of your lungs and cause respiratory damage, impair your lungs, and even reduce the amount of air you’re able to intake. Piles of burning leaves can also release carbon monoxide into the air, which is dangerous to everyone but especially for newborn infants and the elderly .
Think about it this way: each individual, partially burning leaves in a pile of leaves could potentially get caught up in a gust of wind and flutter away, carrying smoldering embers with it. If you live in a particularly dry area, all it takes is one little spark to ignite a fire that could turn into a disaster. Burning leaves isn’t just a fire risk for you- it’s a hazard for your whole community.
Burning the leaves in your yard is illegal in many places. The best way to find out if you’re legally allowed to burn leaves in your yard is to check with your local fire department. If they say burning leaves in your yard is against the law, good news- you’ve just saved yourself some potential legal trouble. And even if burning leaves is technically allowed in your municipality, the cons of doing so still greatly outweigh the pros.
What To Do Instead
The EPA recommends composting as the most safe and environmentally sound way to dispose of fallen leaves. Composting allows leaves (and other organic materials) to break down naturally, disposing of them without releasing any nastiness into the air or starting any fires. For more information on how to handle leaves in the fall, read more about the eleven things you should not with your fallen leaves (burning is one of them), and the ten things you can do with a pile of leaves.