Effect of low-density polyethylene on smoke emissions from burning of simulated debris piles

Seyedehsan Hosseini, Manish Shrivastava, Li Qi, David R Weise, David R Cocker, John W Miller, Heejung S Jung
Journal of the Air & Waste Management Association 2014, 64 (6): 690-703

UNLABELLED: Low-density polyethylene (LDPE) plastic is used to keep piled debris from silvicultural activities--activities associated with development and care of forests--dry to enable efficient disposal by burning. The effects of inclusion of LDPE in this manner on smoke emissions are not well known. In a combustion laboratory experiment, 2-kg mixtures of LDPE and manzanita (Arctostaphylos sp.) wood containing 0, 0.25, and 2.5% LDPE by mass were burned. Gaseous and particulate emissions were sampled in real time during the entire flaming, mixed combustion phase--when the flaming and smoldering phases are present at the same time--and during a portion of the smoldering phase. Analysis of variance was used to test significance of modified combustion efficiency (MCE)--the ratio of concentrations of fire-integrated excess CO2 to CO2 plus CO--and LDPE content on measured individual compounds. MCE ranged between 0.983 and 0.993, indicating that combustion was primarily flaming; MCE was seldom significant as a covariate. Of the 195 compounds identified in the smoke emissions, only the emission factor (EF) of 3M-octane showed an increase with increasing LDPE content. Inclusion of LDPE had an effect on EFs of pyrene and fluoranthene, but no statistical evidence of a linear trend was found. Particulate emission factors showed a marginally significant linear relationship with MCE (0.05 < P-value < 0.10). Based on the results of the current and previous studies and literature reviews, the inclusion of small mass proportions of LDPE in piled silvicultural debris does not appear to change the emissions produced when low-moisture-content wood is burned. In general, combustion of wet piles results in lower MCEs and consequently higher levels of emissions.

IMPLICATIONS: Current air quality regulations permit the use of burning to dispose of silvicultural piles; however, inclusion of low-density polyethyelene (LDPE) plastic in silvicultural piles can result in a designation of the pile as waste. Waste burning is not permitted in many areas, and there is also concern that inclusion of LDPE leads to toxic air emissions.

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