From: UCAR AtmosNews
Published August 26, 2014 04:20 PM

Uncontrolled Trash Burning Significantly Worsens Air Pollution

Unregulated trash burning around the globe is pumping far more pollution into the atmosphere than shown by official records. A new study led by the National Center for Atmospheric Research estimates that more than 40 percent of the world's garbage is burned in such fires, emitting gases and particles that can substantially affect human health and climate change.

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The new study provides the first rough estimates, on a country-by-country basis, of pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, and mercury that are emitted by the fires. Such pollutants have been linked to serious medical issues.

The researchers also estimated emissions of carbon dioxide, the most common greenhouse gas produced by human activity.

Unlike emissions from commercial incinerators, the emissions from burning trash in open fires often go unreported to environmental agencies and are left out of many national inventories of air pollution. For that reason, they are not incorporated into policy making.

"Air pollution across much of the globe is significantly underestimated because no one is tracking open-fire burning of trash," said NCAR scientist Christine Wiedinmyer, lead author of the new study. "The uncontrolled burning of trash is a major source of pollutants, and it's one that should receive more attention."

Quantifying the extent of burning trash may change how policy makers track emissions, as well as how scientists incorporate air pollution into computer models used to study the atmosphere.

Because trash burning is unregulated and unmonitored, Wiedinmyer said that actual emissions could be larger or smaller than the study's estimates by a factor of two. Still, the analysis represents the most comprehensive effort to date to account for emissions from trash burning.

The new study, published in Environmental Science & Technology, was funded by the National Science Foundation, which is NCAR's sponsor. It was co-authored by scientists from the University of Montana and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency who were also involved in measuring the composition of trash-burning emissions.

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Trash burning image via Shutterstock.

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