The autumn tradition of burning leaves has pitted neighbor against neighbors as overflowing landfills force more people to resort to the smoky practice that inflames clean-air advocates and asthma sufferers.
Heated battles are taking place in states like Illinois and Pennsylvania, where bans on the dumping of yard waste in lanfils recently were enacted.Residents who consider the smell of burning leaves fall's perfume and object to the cost and hassle of other disposal methods are asserting their right to light up.
Sufferers of allergies, asthma or other lung ailments are demanding to breathe air free of smoke that environmentalists and health officials say can be dangerous.
"It's always amazing ato me how intensely people feel about this issue," said Joseph Minott, executive director of the Delaware Valley Clean Air council in Philadelphia. It's part of American culture."
A number of states ban leaf buring in heavily populated areas, primarily because of concerns about the spread of fire, said Dave Ryan of the Environmental Protection Agency. The EPA discourages leaf burning but doesn't consider it a major threat to air quality, Ryan said.
In rural areas, some communities ban the practice or restrict when it can take place.
But with 11 states enacting bans against duming leaves or other yard waste in landfills, local officials are under pressure to loosen restrictions on leaf burning.
Residents in some Illinois towns face charges of up to $1.70 a bag to get rid of their leaves.
"It's a real Catch 22," said Hal Englund, editor of the Journal of Air and Waste Management in Pittsburge. "Many communities banned burning to protect their air, but now they're worried about saving their landfills. So now they've got to rethink their burning ordinances."
Environmentalists say the solution lies in recycling and composting, a "foreign concept to most people," said Jack Darin, a field representative for the Sierra aClub of Illinois.
"They're used to carrting it to the curb rather than piling it in the back yard," he said.
In Warmington, Pa., local officials bowed to public pressure and withddrew a proposed leaf-burning ban.
Leaf smoke can make breathing extremely difficult for sufferers of asthma, emphysema, chronic bronchitis and allergies, said Maggie Robbins of the chicago Lung Association. Some sufferers of those ailments must be hospitalized, she said.