N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources
 Welcome to the North Carolina Division of Air Quality
News & Public Outreach >> Press Releases

Michael F. Easley, Governor  Logo of NC Department of Environment and Natural Resouces William G. Ross, Jr., Secretary

N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

Release: Immediate
Date: June 1, 2004
Contact: Tom Mather
(919) 715-7408


RALEIGH - Outdoor burning will be prohibited in major metropolitan areas across the state when air quality forecasts call for high levels of ozone in those areas, under a rule change that takes effect today.

The rule adopted by the N.C. Environmental Management Commission (EMC) is aimed at reducing emissions that contribute to ozone and particle pollution when the air quality is expected to be poor. The ban will be triggered on "air quality action days," when the Division of Air Quality (DAQ) or local air programs forecast Code Orange, Red or worse ozone conditions for a particular metro area.

"The ban on outdoor burning will help us improve air quality and protect public health in areas experiencing Code Orange and Red days," said Keith Overcash, director of the N.C. Division of Air Quality (DAQ). "Smoke from outdoor fires is unhealthy to breathe, particularly for people with respiratory problems, and it contributes to ozone and particle pollution."

Many of the counties covered by the air quality forecasts are included in non-attainment areas that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) designated for ozone in April and for areas it plans to designate for particle pollution later this year. The burning ban is one of a series of steps the state is taking to bring these areas back into compliance with national air quality standards.

Areas covered by the new open burning rule include 39 counties in the Asheville, Charlotte, Fayetteville, Hickory, Triad and Triangle metro areas. A map showing all of the forecast counties is posted on the DAQ web site at this page: http://daq.state.nc.us/airaware/ozone/monitors/. The ban does not apply to the Rocky Mount area because the EPA designated Nash and Edgecombe non-attainment for ozone after the EMC had adopted the rule, but citizens in those counties are encouraged not to burn outdoors on Code Orange and Red days.

North Carolina law restricts open burning because the smoke from outdoor fires can cause serious health problems and pollute the air. Under the state open burning rule, it is always illegal to burn non-vegetative materials such as:

  • Garbage, paper and cardboard;
  • Tires and other rubber products;
  • Building materials, including lumber;
  • Wire, plastics and other synthetic materials;
  • Asphalt shingles and heavy oils;
  • Paints, and household and agricultural chemicals.

Homeowners generally can burn yard trimmings - excluding stumps and logs over 6 inches in diameter - if the air quality forecast calls for Code Green or Yellow conditions, local ordinances allow it, no public pickup is available, and it doesn't cause a public nuisance. Other allowable burning includes fireplaces, campfires, outdoor barbecues, and bonfires for festive occasions. Landowners may be allowed to burn vegetation to clear land or clean up storm debris, but they should check first with the nearest DAQ regional office. People seeking to burn may need permits from the Division of Forest Resources.

Many municipalities will pick up limbs and other debris if they are piled along the curb, or debris can be hauled to approved landfills. It is illegal to burn debris if public pickup is available. Under the open burning rule, the DAQ can assess fines as high as $10,000 per violation, but most fines are less than $1,000 for first-time offenders. Larger fines can be assessed in cases involving repeat violations and for people who knowingly violate the law.

State and local air quality programs issue air quality forecasts year-round for ozone and fine particles in the Charlotte, Hickory and Triad metro areas. Forecasts are issued from May through September for ozone in the Triangle, Asheville, Fayetteville and Rocky Mount metro areas.

Meteorologists issue the forecasts at 3 p.m. every day for the following day. The color-coded forecasts show whether air quality is likely to be good (green), moderate (yellow), unhealthy for sensitive groups (orange), or unhealthy (red).

Ozone is North Carolina's most widespread air quality problem, particularly during the warmer months. High ozone levels generally occur on hot sunny days with little wind, when pollutants such as nitrogen oxides and hydrocarbons react in the air. High levels of fine particles are more of a problem in the western Piedmont region but can occur throughout the year, particularly during episodes of stagnant air and forest fires.

Ozone, a highly reactive form of oxygen, can be unhealthy to breathe -- particularly for children, people with asthma or other respiratory problems, and adults who work or exercise outdoors. Exposure to high ozone levels may cause previously healthy individuals to develop asthma over time, according to recent health studies. Ozone also causes millions of dollars in tree and crop damage each year. North Carolina typically ranks among the top 10 states in the number of bad ozone days each year, and more than half of its residents live in counties where ozone levels exceed the standard.

Particle pollution, which consists of very small particles and liquid droplets in the air, can be harmful to breathe and contributes to haze and other air quality problems. Fine particles can penetrate deeply into the lungs and absorb into the bloodstream, causing or aggravating heart and lung diseases. Persons most susceptible to particle pollution include those with heart and respiratory conditions, the elderly and young children. Particle levels have exceeded the standard in Catawba and Davidson counties over the past three years.

Air quality forecasts can be found at the DAQ web site at www.ncair.org, or by calling the toll-free hotline, 1-888-RU4NCAIR (1-888-784-6224). A free brochure describing what is allowed and prohibited under the open burning rule can be obtained by calling (919) 733-3340, or writing to the Division of Air Quality at 1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641, or checking the DAQ web site.


N.C. Division of Air Quality
B. Keith Overcash, Director
1641 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1641
Tom Mather, Public Information Officer
(919)715-7408, FAX (919)715-7175

Email us

Last Modified: Mon June 07 15:13:54 2004
 Visit the NCDENR web portal
Top of Page