TOPEKA – The Kansas Department of Health and Environment (KDHE) reminds Kansans that early March through the end of April is the time when large areas of the state’s Flint Hills rangeland are burned, a practice that can impact air quality. These burns are conducted to provide better forage for cattle and to help control invasive species such as Eastern Red Cedar and Sumac. Burning is an alternative to chemical control methods. Additionally, well planned and managed periodic burns can minimize the risk of wildfires and are an inexpensive method for managing rangeland.
As with the previous burning season, KDHE will allow access to the Kansas smoke modeling tool on March 1 this year because of the likelihood that extensive burning will take place across the Flint Hills. The ten-year average of acres burned in the Flint Hills of Kansas and Oklahoma is approximately 2.5 million, with 2.53 million acres burned in 2014.
For burns to be conducted safely and effectively, weather and rangeland conditions must be right. When conditions are right, landowners often conduct burns at the same time. If these burns take place when meteorological conditions do not disperse the smoke, air pollutants from the burns can affect the Flint Hills area and can be carried long distances to more populated areas.
“We encourage ranchers and land managers to take advantage of this smoke modeling resource to spread out their burns more effectively and mitigate potential air quality impacts,” said Douglas Watson, a meteorologist with KDHE’s Bureau of Air.
One outcome of prescribed burning is the release of a large amount of particulate matter (PM) and substances that can form ozone in the air during a relatively short time period. Fine particles can affect eyes and the respiratory system, and can cause health problems such as burning eyes, runny nose, coughing and illnesses such as bronchitis. Persons with asthma may experience aggravated symptoms. Individuals with pre-existing heart or lung diseases, children and the elderly are most likely to be affected. Healthy individuals may experience temporary symptoms from exposure to elevated levels of PM and ozone, as well.
Steps taken to protect health during smoke impacts, include:
• Healthy people curtailing or avoiding strenuous outdoor exercise,
• People with heart or breathing related illnesses remaining indoors,
• Keeping indoor air clean by closing doors and windows and running the air conditioner on ‘recirculate’ setting,
• Keeping airways moist by drinking lots of water,
• Contacting your doctor about symptoms such as chest pain, chest tightness, shortness of breath or severe fatigue.
For more information about the burning in the Flint Hills, the Flint Hills Smoke Management Plan, April burn restrictions associated with the plan and access to the smoke modeling tool, please visit www.ksfire.org.