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Tuesday, August 19, 2003, back page, Watertown (NY) Daily Times

Ban on burning considered again in St. Lawrence County

Awareness not enough, some say

by Matt Guardino, Times Staff Writer

CANTON - A possible ban on outdoor trash burning again is on the radar screen for St. Lawrence County lawmakers.

"There's a growing sense, I think, around the county that we would all benefit by dealing with this issue in a more meaningful way," Legislator Peter W. FitzRandolph, D-Canton, said Monday in calling for renewed discussion of a countywide burn ban.

Mr. FitzRandolph made his comments after a presentation to the Legislature's Services Committee by residents and activists on the health and environmental hazards of garbage burning and on the need to supplement public informational efforts with legal penalties.

After months of passionate debate, lawmakers on a close vote decided last year to kill a proposed law prohibiting burning, which has been linked to cancer, reproductive problems and other illnesses, not to mention fire hazards.

Legislators instead decided to spend $36,000 to educate residents about the dangers of rubbish burning, including billboards, presentations to community groups and media ads.

But St. Lawrence County Farm Bureau President Richard W. Tulley Jr. compared trash burning with drunken driving, saying awareness programs don't go far enough to protect public health and safety.

"I think it needs to be a little stronger than suggestion. I think it has to be a mandate," said Mr. Tulley, Brasie Corners. "When you've got burn barrels in everybody's backyard, it just can't be good to breathe that. And I think we're going to pay for some of this with Medicaid and Medicare on the other end, as well."

The county Farm Bureau expects to pass a resolution soon calling on its statewide parent organization to support a garbage burning ban across New York, which is something the state group has resisted for years, Mr. Tulley said.

Mounting evidence, including a recent National Institute of Medicine report on dioxin contamination, has fueled public awareness of the dangers of consuming meat and dairy goods contaminated when chemicals produced by trash fires settle on forage crops, he said.

"We need to maintain the quality, we need to maintain the image of milk as being clean and wholesome," he said. "So, we're taking a stronger look at what needs to happen."

The European Union already maintains a standard that measures acceptable levels of fat-soluble dioxin in dairy and meat products, and the U.S. federal government eventually will be forced to consider that issue, Lisbon activist Donald L. Hassig said.

"Europe is about 10 years ahead of the U.S., in terms of getting at this problem," he said. "My point is that St. Lawrence County really needs to be doing all that it can do, rather than half what it can do. And it's all to the good of the dairy industry."

But Legislature Vice Chairman Thomas A. Nichols, R-Ogdensburg, said most local air pollution originates outside the county's borders at Canadian chemical facilities and Midwestern power plants.

It would make more sense to work harder to woo industrial plants to the county, where they would be subject to strict state and federal environmental oversight, rather than let them set up across the border, where rules are looser, he said.

"I'm just curious when we as St. Lawrence County residents are going to stop shooting ourselves in the foot - or in some other part of our anatomy - by calling into question the quality of our products," said Mr. Nichols, who owns a business in the town of Oswegatchie that does crop work for farms and sells seed, tires and other goods.

Mr. FitzRandolph rejected the notion that the county could not simultaneously lobby for better cross-border cooperation on air pollution and action against dirty plants located upwind of the area while also tackling its home-grown garbage-burning blight head-on.

"A lot of our problems are coming from the outside, but you do what you can," he said.

Parishville land surveyor David M. Strack said a county law would counter what he called lax enforcement of rules by the state Department of Environmental Conservation, which prohibits trash burning in villages and cities.

"At least the county could take the bull by the horns," said Mr. Strack, who said he's seen an uptick in rubbish fires after an initial lull just after the county began its educational program.

He pointed to higher than normal cancer rates documented by the state Health Department in many parts of the county and said three people who live within 1,000 feet of each other in Pyrites have been stricken with brain tumors in the past three years.

"You have no idea what it's like to work in that stuff," Mr. Strack said.