Disgusted by neighbours burning garbage

| 27/10/2016

I just have a question in regards to neighbours who constantly are burning heaps of plant waste and/or garbage. Even though the mounds of debris are being burned on their property, the smoke is drifting directly into our a/c units and filling the whole house with disgusting smoke (and we have a newborn baby). The ashy debris that gets swept up by the breeze is also always ending up in our pool, all over our cars and yard, and being a general nuisance! Is there anything someone can do about this? Is it legal to be burning and leaving large heaps on fire unattended even if it is in your own yard? Would the fire department intervene if called? Because I know they are very strict about bonfires. Even if it’s on your own property they can show up and ask you to extinguish! Thank you, hoping you can find some answers on the matter.

Auntie’s answer: A Department of Environmental Health official provided a very comprehensive answer to your question. For one thing, open burning of garbage – including paper, plastics, cardboard, yard waste and construction debris – whether in barrels, open pits, outdoor furnaces, wood stoves or fireplaces, can release a hazardous mixture of carcinogens and other toxic substances, he explained. In my mind, that is certainly enough of a reason not to do it.

And it is not just the smoke that can be harmful. You also mentioned the ash, some of which will settle on the ground (as you noted) leading to the leaching of toxins into surface and ground water. The ash can also damage clothing, any surfaces and even your roof.

I will state the obvious here and say that means your neighbours face the same issues.

If the above isn’t enough to dissuade the burning of trash, the official also said, “Dioxins and furans (which are carcinogenic and cause other medical problems) produced by the open burning of garbage are deposited on plants, which are eaten by animals. The dioxins and furans are absorbed by these animals and stay in the food chain until they ultimately end up in our meat and dairy products. In fact, over 90 percent of our intake of dioxins and furans is from our diet.”

And, again, if that wasn’t awful enough, the official addressed the dangers of the smoke itself. “Open burning of garbage poses health risks to those exposed directly to the smoke. It especially affects people with sensitive respiratory systems (e.g. asthma, dyspnea, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) as well as children and the elderly.

“In the short term, exposure to smoke can cause headaches, nausea and rashes. Over time, it can increase the risk of developing heart disease.”

I think that effectively makes the case for how dangerous it is to burn waste. For your situation, though, you should know it is also illegal.

The Public Health Law (2002 Revision) defines nuisance as “any act, omission, or thing occasioning or likely to occasion injury, annoyance, offence, harm, danger or damage to the sense of sight, smell or hearing or which is or is likely to be dangerous or injurious to person or property”.

Under Part III – Nuisances of the law, Section 7 (2) (j), any “furnace, chimney, fireplace or other place (waste heaps, etc.) from which is emitted smoke or other unconsumed combustible matter in such quantity or in such manner as to be prejudicial to health or a nuisance” is considered a “statutory nuisance”.

Furthermore, Section 4 (4) of the Public Health (Garbage and Refuse Disposal) Regulations (2011 Revision) says, “Save with the permission in writing of the Department (of Environmental Health) the burning of garbage at private premises in a service area is prohibited.”

Now we get to the part that is probably of most interest to you because the official said, “The DEH does not give approval for the burning of waste matter or lands. If a person is burning heaps of leaves/waste or other matter in residential or other areas, permission was not granted by the DEH and a complaint should be made for a DEH officer to investigate the matter.” You can reach the DEH at 949-6696.

The official noted that complaints of fire and smoke nuisances can also be reported to the Cayman Islands Fire Service (949-2246) and the Royal Cayman Islands Police Service (949-4222) for those departments to investigate and “take the necessary actions”.

Since you mentioned bonfires as well, he added, “The DEH only grants permission for small to medium bonfires under controlled circumstances, which requires a written request from the applicant with specific details, a fee, collaboration between several agencies, and a written response to the applicant from the DEH. If a person is not in possession of an approval letter from the DEH, most likely the person is in breach of the laws and may be liable for a fine on prosecution.”

I hope all of the above has armed you with plenty of information to deal with your neighbours and will allow you and your family once again to breathe fresh air.

You can find the relevant laws on the CNS Library

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Category: Ask Auntie

Comments (16)

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  1. Linda says:

    What can I do, with a neighbor that has been burning pine needles, pinecones, racked up leaves, for over a week, my home smells. And its not good for my husbands bad heart.

    • Anonymous says:

      That is so strange I live in Las Vegas and I have a neighbor doing the exact same thing!

  2. Joeyrenee says:

    My neighbor was burning yard debris at 9:30 pm and flame was 10-15 ft. high. Sparks flying in the air. Pitch black out. I went over to try to talk to him. Hé was drunk. Told me I was harassing him and he was.going to sue me. I guess it is best to call fire dept or police.

    • Charles LeRoy Barksdale says:

      Yes call Fire Marshall get a report you did your part as a neighbor I am experiencing same issues my case will go to court and this allows the neighbor to LIE to the JUDGE I will no longer tolerate his excuses as a neighbor

  3. Glenn Johnson says:

    They’re referring to evaporative coolers. Forgive them that they don’t know the lingo of defining air conditioner from a swamp cooler. Yes, let’s use the correct term here the evaporative coolers will bring smoke in from neighbors burning.
    Yes, the police and firemen could care less and it’s a waste of effort to get them to do anything besides nothing.
    Best and only thing you can do, is cut your losses and move.

  4. Anonymous says:

    I think it is quite widely known that this is illegal, but as with many other laws getting someone to enforce it is the harder part. Many times I see houses with fires out in their garden and the police cross and carry on driving. You call the police and they don’t come, maybe a family member has the fire or maybe they don’t see anything wrong with it and do it themselves.

  5. Anonymous says:

    The exterior air-conditioning units cannot pump smoke ( nor outside air) into your house. The condenser-compressor only pumps refrigerant gas , not exchange air. You can only get outside air ( or in this case..outside smoke ) into your house by having doors and windows open.

    • Austin says:

      That’s Right but some people have air intake outside for the house that let cool air in the summer at night

  6. The yard an says:

    Bureaucracy rules!

  7. Anonymous says:

    As I type this there is a large bonfire behind the green house opposite and on the other side of the road from the landing dock at the Coe Wood beach in Bodden Town. It is sending thick noxious foul smelling smoke west of the fire and covering many many other homes trying to enjoy their Sunday afternoon. The smoke is not affecting the perpetrators’ property at all. The fire and smoke are easily visible from the road. Would the RCIPS stop and do anything if they passed by? Very doubtful, just as they do nothing about the many cars with totally tinted windows plain for all to see in Bodden Town.

  8. Anonymous says:

    I always call the Fire Department and inform them that I have Asthmatics in my house plus a young child and the smoke is coming into my air conditioners.

  9. Anonymous says:

    This is one of these laws/regulations that are not considered to apply to Caymanians. My neighbor burns trash, creating all the problems the writer complains of. He is a Caymanian policeman.

    • Anonymous says:

      Call his boss. I’m a Caymanian and I don’t burn bush and I will complain on anyone whether Caymanian or not.

      • Anonymous says:

        No, I cannot report him to his boss. I am a driftwood Caymanian and my life and my family’s would be unbearable if I “snitched”. That’s the reality of life in Cayman today, whether anyone wants to accept it or not. It was not always like this.

        • Anonymous says:

          And they would know it is you because you are the only other house on the block? Or your car is the only car that drives down that road?

          I call the police whenever I see wrong doing. I am Caymanian. I have children and I expect them to follow the laws which are put in place for a reason.

          People should not burn random fires to prevent accidental house burning and the smoke could actually be something wrong going on. I would be grateful if my neighbors saw smoke coming from my house and called the police/fire department.

          • Anonymous says:

            No, because the RCIPS or Fire Dept would in all likelihood let it out where the complaint came from.