Editorial: It's time to put an end to leaf burning

  • Asthma, which affects a growing number of people, can be worsened by the particles and chemicals in leaf smoke.

    Asthma, which affects a growing number of people, can be worsened by the particles and chemicals in leaf smoke. File photo

Daily Herald Editorial Board
Posted7/5/2019 1:00 AM

Let's start by stipulating that the way things were done when we were kids isn't necessarily the way things should be done today.

We're talking about leaf-burning, and the danger it poses to people who have asthma, COPD, emphysema or bronchitis.


Most suburbs banned it decades ago. But in most unincorporated areas of Lake County, burning leaves is allowed. Every fall, many neighborhoods are enveloped in a gray haze that can linger for days.

Members of the Lake County Board's energy and environment committee debated the issue last week, and we are glad they're considering restrictions.

It's time recognition is given to the significant health costs of a practice that some find nostalgic but forces others to vacate their own homes on many fall weekends because of the actions of their neighbors.

The number of people in the U.S. with asthma grew by 5 million between 2001 and 2017, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports. About 8% of the population has the disease, which can strike at any age.

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That means about one in every 12 of our neighbors suffers shortness of breath, wheezing, chest tightness and other symptoms that can be made worse by inhaling the chemicals and fine particles from leaf smoke.

That's only one lung disease on the rise. Deaths from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD, also are increasing, the World Health Organization reports.

It's hard to argue that the freedom to burn leaves is worth the potential cost to someone's health.

We recognize that leaves on large, wooded lots can accumulate to levels that would seem staggering to many town dwellers. Burning is one expeditious solution, but there are safe alternatives such as composting, shredding or spreading leaves as mulch in wooded or natural areas of your property.

Hannah Mulroy, Lake County's interim sustainability program manager, suggested the county look into contracting for yard waste pickup. Some townships offer the service, but some unincorporated areas lack coordinated waste hauling programs altogether. Neighbors and homeowner associations might need to work together to seek solutions.

Finding alternatives to leaf burning isn't really optional, given the hazard it poses to large numbers of people. DuPage County bans burning in unincorporated areas, and McHenry County restricts it. Their experiences could be starting points for Lake County in developing its own rules.

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