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Underwood's open-burn ban should be a permanent decree

August 20, 1999

Gov. Cecil Underwood's ban on open burning in eight counties of West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle, where 44 fires have burned 120 acres since July 1, was an emergency measure. But even after the emergency is over, the ban ought to continue in force.

We say that for two reasons. Early this spring, before there was any hint of the historic drought we've experienced this year, there were a host of fires caused by people burning debris from spring yard clean-ups. In several cases, those small fires got out of hand, burning down garages and storage sheds.

But the other reason to keep this ban permanent is that the practice of burning trash in 50-gallon barrels or other containers is an archaic leftover from the time when residents had only two options - to either burn their trash or bury it. Open burning not only increases fire danger, but pollutes the air as well. There are alternatives to this method of disposal that cost little or nothing.

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Small pieces of yard waste - leaves, grass clippings and weeds - can be placed in a compost pile to produce a substance that when added to next year's vegetable garden will provide nutrients and enhance the soil's ability to hold moisture. Larger pieces of yard waste can be chipped (some local governments provide this service) into ornamental mulch.

As for the rest of the items in the waste stream, recycling services are available in the region for newspaper, cans of all sorts, glass bottles and plastics. The very few things that can't be recycled or composted - food items like meat scraps, for example - can be sent to a commercial hauler.

Once upon a time, many people sprayed their shrubs with anything that would kill bugs, regardless of the chemicals' toxicity and dumped the waste from their auto oil changes down the nearest storm drain. Now people have gotten more sensitive to the fact that their actions affect everyone else and have curbed those behaviors. It's time to curb the practice of open burning, not only to keep from sparking other, more dangerous fires, but to preserve the quality of the air all of us must breathe.

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