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Air pollution

Bonfires and smoke nuisance from domestic premises

Bonfires are a frequent cause of complaints to Environmental Health because of annoyance and nuisance caused to neighbours from smoke, and health concerns about air pollutants in smoke, including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. Burning waste can prevent people from enjoying their gardens, opening windows or hanging out washing, and the smoke and fumes created affect air quality and can be damaging to health in the longer term.

Celebrating bonfire night

How we can help

If you are bothered by smoke, you may wish to approach your neighbour first and try to resolve the problem amicably - they may not be aware that their actions are causing you concern. If this approach fails, you should contact Environmental Health to report a bonfire and we will investigate your complaint and take appropriate action. Not all bonfires will be considered to be a statutory nuisance, but all complaints will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Report a bonfire

Telephone: 0300 123 0900.

Environmental Health will investigate your complaint and take appropriate action. Not all bonfires will be considered to be a statutory nuisance, but all complaints will be assessed on a case by case basis.

Alternatives to burning

Instead of having a bonfire, consider other disposal methods which are less environmentally damaging:

  • Compost
  • Shred woody waste for use as a mulch or for composting
  • Recycle newspapers, glass and cans
  • Use the Council's garden waste collection (brown bins)
  • Use the Council's special uplift for the removal of bulky household refuse www.south-ayrshire.gov.uk/bulkyuplifts/

Bonfire guidelines

If you are going to have a bonfire, do so responsibly and advise your closest neighbours in advance so they can be prepared for any inconvenience it may cause.

Make sure your neighbours do not have windows open, and are not drying washing or enjoying their garden.

Avoid burning in unsuitable weather conditions - smoke hangs in the air on damp, still days and if it is windy, may be blown into neighbours' gardens and across roads.

  • Check piles of garden waste for hibernating wildlife and sleeping pets
  • Burn in an area away from fences, buildings and windows and beware scorching trees and plants
  • Only burn dry material
  • Never burn household rubbish, aerosol cans, tyres, plastics, foams or painted items
  • Never use old engine oil, methylated spirit or petrol to light or fuel the fire
  • Never leave a fire unattended or leave it to smoulder - hose it down cold before you leave it.

However, please note that even if you do follow the guidelines given above, you may still cause a nuisance - any complaints about your bonfire will be investigated by Environmental Health and may be subject to enforcement action.

Commercial business/industrial bonfires and dark smoke

Bonfires on commercial premises are a frequent cause of complaints to Environmental Health because of annoyance and nuisance caused to neighbours from smoke, and health concerns about air pollutants in smoke, including carbon monoxide, dioxins and particles. Contractors are discouraged from disposing of any waste by burning, and in many cases burning waste may be illegal

How we can help

If you witness dark smoke being emitted from industrial or trade premises, please contact Environmental Health immediately.

If smoke from a fire is drifting across a road and endangering traffic, contact the local Police.

Burning of waste on building or demolition sites

Bonfires on building or demolition sites are subject to the controls outlined above.

There is an exemption from the usual waste management requirements which allows developers to burn untreated wood, bark and plant matter only, provided it does not cause pollution or a nuisance, and subject to certain other conditions.

Developers must apply to SEPA (Scottish Environment Protection Agency – local office Miller Road Ayr Tel: 01292 294000) for such an exemption. Waste timber which has been treated for wet or dry rot must not be burned due to the release of harmful pollutants (dioxins). Only waste from that site may be burned - it is not permitted to import waste from another site for burning.

Legal position - bonfires

The law controlling bonfires associated with commercial activities is stricter than for domestic situations and the penalties for breaking the law are much higher.

The Environmental Protection Act 1990 allows local authorities to take actions against offenders if bonfires are considered to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance due to the emission of smoke. This includes nuisance from soot, ash, particulates and the smell of smoke. The local authority may serve an Abatement Notice on the offender. If this is not complied with, the local authority may choose to prosecute the offender or instead, serve a fixed penalty notice. This is currently £150 for domestic premises and £400 for industrial, trade or business premises. The emission of dark smoke from industrial or trade premises is an offence under the Clean Air Act 1993 and is subject to a fine of up to £20,000. There is no requirement for the local authority to serve notice first for dark smoke offences. There is no requirement for Environmental Health Officers to witness the smoke first hand provided there is evidence that a deliberate fire would have been likely to have produced dark smoke, e.g. evidence of burnt plastic, rubber, foam and painted or otherwise treated wood. It is a specific offence under the Clean Air Act 1993 to burn insulation from a cable with a view to recovering metals, unless the burning is part of a process authorised by SEPA under the Environmental Protection Act 1990.

Are farmers permitted to burn stubble on their fields?

Yes, provided it is controlled, does not become a nuisance to neighbours and does not produce dark smoke. If a complaint is made regarding smoke nuisance or dark smoke it will be investigated in terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1990 and appropriate action taken.

Are industrial premises permitted to burn material?

In terms of the Clean Air Act 1993 it is unlawful to emit dark smoke from any industrial or trade premises unless the burning is part of a process authorised by SEPA in terms of the Environmental Protection Act 1990. Many complaints arise from burning of waste material on building or demolition sites. Almost always such burning will give rise to dark smoke emissions. If a complaint is made regarding dark smoke being emitted then these complaints are investigated in terms of the Clean Air Act 1993.

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Last updated: 15 September 2016

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