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Know the Risks - Environmental Effects

A number of adverse effects to our environment can occur from open burning. Particulate matter, the main component of smoke, can reduce visibility (haze) and build up in the atmosphere, soils, plants, and animals.

Visibility Impairment

PM pollution is the major cause of reduced visibility (haze) in parts of the United States, including many of our treasured national parks and wilderness areas.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Regional Haze program addresses visibility.

Pictured to the right is Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge; hover your cursor over the image to compare visibility on a clear day versus a hazy one.

(Images provided courtesy of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife and National Park Service Visibility Programs.)


Atmospheric Depostion

Particles can be blown by wind over long distances where they then settle on the ground or in water. This settling action is called called deposition. Effects of PM deposition include:

  • increasing acidity of bodies of water like lakes and streams,
  • altering the nutrient balance in coastal waters and large river basins,
  • depleting the nutrients in soil and groundwater,
  • damaging sensitive forests and farm crops, and
  • affecting the diversity of ecosystems.

Aesthetic Damage

South Carolina State House in Columbia Over time, some particulate matter can stain and damage stone and other materials through deposition. This includes culturally important objects like monuments and statues. Aesthetic damage can also be caused by acid rain.