US state could bring back field burning

Idaho could be allowed to resurrect the banned practice of agricultural burning, provided farmers agree to standards laid down by the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Federal law in America prohibits field burning as the practice releases high levels of soot carrying particulate matter which can present a significant health hazard.

It can also present more localised environmental problems impacting on visibility and odour levels.

The Idaho Department of Environmental Quality (IDEQ) has applied to have the rules changed, however, and is asking for a new system which would allow farmers to burn fields provided they obtained advance permission from the state.

The State would still be expected to meet its air quality targets under the federal Clean Air Act.

Though it does have industrial centres, Idaho is not an overly-developed state with agriculture and tourism providing the back bone of its economy.

Before granting approval to burn, IDEQ would need to consider a number of factors, such as the existing air quality in the area, the expected emissions from the proposed burn, the proximity of the proposed burn to other burns and to sensitive populations or areas like public roadways, and airports.

IDEQ must also notify the public beforehand about the date of the burn, location, acreage and crop type.

The EPA says it is minded to allow the change in the rules, but is inviting public comments before making a final decision.

Unregulated agricultural burning is the cause of major environmental problems elsewhere in the world.

Burning in isolated areas of Russia occasionally impacts on air quality in Western Europe while South East Asia frequently battles with smog aggravated by agricultural burning in Indonesia.

Sam Bond

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