DES MOINES, Iowa -- Everyone loves the colors of autumn, but few enjoy raking the leaves that come with it. If you're one of those people who burn leaves to get them out of your yard, the Iowa Department of Natural Resources would like you to reconsider.
Environmental Specialist Christine Paulson said when you burn leaves you’re releasing toxic air pollutants. These can be fine particles that contain harmful chemicals such as carbon monoxide. These chemicals are unhealthy for the average person’s lungs. They also can be extremely detrimental for those with asthma, children, and the elderly.
“That impacts people’s lungs and their ability to breathe,” Paulson said. “Small kids because their lungs are still developing, it can have more of an impact on them or the elderly. Just because a lot of times they do have compromised immune systems and respiratory systems,” Paulson said.
However, so many people associate burning leaves with their childhood or fall, they continue to do it as a seasonal tradition. As a safety measure, burning leaves is banned in most towns in Polk County.
“It has decreased quite a bit. A lot of people have either banned or restricted burning leaves. So I feel like there’s more awareness,” Paulson said.
Paulson suggests three alternatives for those wanting to get rid of leaves:
The first is to compost.
The second is to mow over them. Paulson said leaves are a great source of natural fertilizer for lawns and also improve your soil with organic matter.
Lastly, they can be bagged. Residents can call their local public works’ office to help with the yard waste.
Composting and bagging your leaves can have an additional cost, but Paulson said it’s worth it.
“They’re better because they’re not admitting air pollutants. And they’re also putting the nutrients from those leaves back into either your garden, lawn or a community site. A lot of folks in the community can actually use that in their gardens in their yards. It’s a healthy option because you don’t have pollution, it’s good for the community, and it’s easy,” Paulson said.
The Iowa DNR said there are still a few patches of good fall colors out to admire, however, central Iowa is already past the peak viewing point. With Monday's possible record-breaking low temperatures, those final leaves are probably going to fall fast. Paulson said don't put your rakes away just yet.