Outdoor Air Information & Regulations

The Air Quality Program serves to reduce and prevent health-related issues arising from pollution in the ambient air. This is accomplished through educating the public on the impacts of their activities on air pollution, as well as through the implementation of a variety of air quality regulations. Staff respond to and investigate complaints of activities that are causing air pollution, and when necessary, pursue enforcement when violations are identified.

What kinds of activities are prohibited?

The Air Quality Program enforces air quality regulations and codes established by County Resolution, Lincoln Municipal Code, and local regulations set forth in the Lincoln-Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Program Regulations and Standards (LLCAPCPRS). The following are some of the activities prohibited under these regulations and codes.

Visible Fugitive Dust
  • Dust that becomes airborne in such quantities and concentrations that it remains visible in the ambient air beyond the premises where it originates is referred to as ‘visible fugitive dust’.
  • Article 2, Section 32 of the LLCAPCPRS establishes that no person may cause or permit a building or its appurtenances or a road, or a driveway, or an open area to be constructed, used, repaired, or demolished without applying all such reasonable measures to prevent visible fugitive dust. In addition, no person may cause or permit the handling, transporting, or storage of any material in a manner which may allow visible fugitive dust.
  • Any person who fails to comply with the requirements of the LLCAPCPRS or who fails to perform any duty imposed by the LLCAPCPRS shall be subject to a civil penalty of not more than $10,000 per day per violation.
Air Pollution Nuisances

Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.06.150 prohibits ‘air pollution nuisances’, defined as the emission or release of smoke, ashes, dust, dirt, grime, acids, fumes, gases, vapors, odors, or any other substances or combinations of substances that:

  • Endanger or tend to endanger the health, comfort, safety, or welfare of the public;
  • Is unreasonably offensive and objectionable to the public; or
  • Cause unreasonable injury or damage to property or interfere with the comfortable enjoyment of property or normal conduct of business.

Any person convicted of creating an air pollution nuisance may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 recoverable with costs, or both.

Open Burning of Prohibited Materials

Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.06.140 as well as Section 12 of the Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Resolution establish that it is unlawful to burn any of the following materials:

  • Any garbage or salvage material.
  • Gasoline, diesel oil, heavy oil, solvents, or other flammable petroleum products.
  • Treated wood of any kind including railroad ties, treated posts, utility poles, wood paneling and particle board.
  • Plastic and items containing plastic of any kind.
  • Rubber and asphalt products including rubber tires, roofing shingles, tar paper, asphalt siding and sheeting and items containing rubber or asphalt compounds.
  • Any material being burned for the purpose of salvaging all or part of said material.
  • Any other chemical material which produces highly toxic smoke or fumes which may endanger the public or firefighters called to extinguish the fire.

In addition, it is unlawful to conduct any open burning that:

  • Permits smoke from the fire to travel onto any street, road or highway in such a way as to obscure the vision of any person operating a vehicle on that street, road or highway; or
  • Permits smoke from the fire to travel onto a neighboring property, park or recreational area where it becomes a public nuisance to people who occupy the neighboring dwelling, business structure, or are using the park or recreational area.

Any person convicted of creating an air pollution nuisance may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 recoverable with costs, or both.

Odor Nuisances

Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.06.130, as well as the Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Resolution establish that it is unlawful to cause or permit odorous emissions from any source (though exemptions are provided for animal confinement and feeding operations).

Any person convicted of creating an air pollution nuisance may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 recoverable with costs, or both.

Noise Nuisances

Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.24.090 establishes that it is unlawful to cause or permit noise disturbances. There is a variety of noise standards based on the type of activity generating the noise.

Any person convicted of creating an noise disturbance shall be deemed guilty of a misdemeanor, and may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine to be determined based on the nature and severity of the violation.


Investigation of Citizen Complaints

Clean, healthy air is vital to the human health and well-being, and to protecting the environment. If you notice an air quality problem on your property resulting from one of the activities prohibited above, you can file a complaint with the Air Quality Program. Staff will respond to complaints and, when violations are found, will notify the responsible party of the illegal nuisance they are creating. If necessary, staff will pursue enforcement against the responsible party.

***If someone is illegally burning materials like garbage, treated wood, rubber, or other ‘prohibited materials’, then before you call the Health Department, call ‘911’ to notify your local fire department.

While your complaint will become a public record, your information will not be released during an investigation, and will only be revealed in the event that a criminal case is prosecuted. If your complaint is regarding an air pollution nuisance created by a neighbor’s actions, the Air Quality Program recommends neighbor-to-neighbor communication prior to filing a complaint. Often, letting your neighbor know that their actions are a nuisance is more effective than regulatory action. Many times people are just not aware that their behavior is bothering anyone. We are happy to provide you with information to share with your neighbor(s), or you can download materials from our web site.

If you, or someone else, are experiencing health effects from an air quality problem, please contact your medical service provider, or seek medical attention.

Open Burning and Smoke Pollution

The rules that govern open burning differ between Lincoln and Lancaster County. The following guidance is provided so that you can better understand how open burning negatively impacts air quality, and what rules you are subject to.

*** It is important to note that, regardless of whether you need an open burning permit from the Health Department, you may need a State Fire Marshall burn permit. These permits are obtained through your local fire department. ***

What other resources regarding fires and open burning are available?

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides a fire and smoke mapping service that tracks the locations of satellite-detected fires and smoke plumes. This resource helps provide an indicator of how local air quality might be impacted. Click here to open NOAA’s Hazard Mapping System.

The Air Quality Program has created some downloadable documents containing facts on open burning, as well as guidance on how to reduce air pollution from your indoor wood stove or fireplace. Those resources can be accessed using the following links:

Why worry about pollution from smoke?

Whenever you burn something, the combustion process releases a variety of air pollutants, many of which can cause health problems. By definition smoke is toxic, since it contains hazardous air pollutants, which are chemical compounds that are known to be harmful to human health, and some of which can cause cancer.

Smoke also contains very fine particle pollution, which can damage lung tissue and lead to serious respiratory problems. Scientific studies have linked exposure to fine particles to difficulty in breathing, aggravated asthma, increased emergency room visits and hospital admissions, and, in some cases, premature deaths. Those most at risk are children, the elderly and people with heart problems or existing chronic respiratory diseases, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) or emphysema.

Open Burning Rules within the City Limits of Lincoln

In addition to the prohibitions on ‘Burning of Prohibited Materials’ described above, most open burning is prohibited within the City of Lincoln. There are, however, some open burning activities that are legal, provided they do not cause an air pollution nuisance. Open burning activities that are allowed by the Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.06.140 include:

  • Fires set in structures (grills and fireplaces) for cooking and warmth as provided by the Lincoln Parks and Recreation Department.
  • Fires of less than eight cubic feet in size that are used for cooking or ceremonial purposes provided such fires comply with Lincoln Fire Codes.

Other open burning activities allowed under LMC Section 8.06.140 require that the person conducting the burning obtain an ‘open burning permit’ from the Air Quality Program. Those activities include:

  • Fires of a size greater than eight cubic feet to be used for cooking or ceremonial purposes.
  • Controlled fires set for the purpose of burning vegetation waste accumulated as a result of land clearance projects or as required by agricultural/botanical research programs.

Any person convicted of violating the open burning provisions of the Lincoln Municipal Code and/or the Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Resolution may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 recoverable with costs, or both.

Open Burning Rules outside the City of Lincoln

In addition to the prohibitions on ‘Burning of Prohibited Materials’ described above, Lincoln Municipal Code (LMC) Section 8.06.140, as well as Section 12 of the Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Resolution establish the following limitations on open burning outside of the City of Lincoln:

  • Any refuse burned shall be indigenous to the property of the owner or person in lawful possession of the land.
  • Any person conducting open burning for residential, rural residential, agricultural, and common-carrier right-of-way purposes must obtain an open burning permit from the Air Quality Program if the nearest neighboring (i.e. not on the same property) occupied dwelling, occupied business structure, school or other institution, park or recreational area is within 100 yards of the burn site. If the nearest neighboring (i.e. not on the same property) occupied dwelling, occupied business structure, school or other institution, park or recreational area is more than 100 yards from the burn site, the person conducting the burning does not need a burn permit from the Air Quality Program, but may still need a burn permit from the State Fire Marshall.
  • Any person conducting open burning for industrial, commercial (other than salvage operations), institutional (to include schools, hospitals, churches, and related facilities), governmental and community solid waste disposal purposes must obtain an open burning permit from the Air Quality Program.
  • Any person planning to burn a house, barn, shed, or other structure must obtain an open burning permit from the Air Quality Program

Any person convicted of violating the open burning provisions of the Lincoln Municipal Code and/or the Lancaster County Air Pollution Control Resolution may be punished by imprisonment in the county jail for a period of not to exceed six months or by a fine of not to exceed $500.00 recoverable with costs, or both.

How do I obtain an open burning permit?

If you are planning to conduct open burning that requires a burn permit, you can obtain an open burning permit application from our Air Quality Program Forms & Applications page. If you are burning for industrial or commercial purposes, your application must be accompanied by payment of a fee for each day that you plan to burn. The fee is stated on the application.


Allergens and Other Air Contaminants

The term ‘pollution’ is typically used to refer to air contamination resulting from human activities, but there are also naturally occurring sources of air contamination.

Pollen and mold are not regulated by the Air Quality Program, but we recognize that these contaminants can have a significant impact on people’s health. The following resources and information are provided so that you can better understand the impacts of pollen and mold, and so that you can make informed decisions to protect your health and the health of your loved ones.

Pollen

  • Pollen is used by plants to fertilize each other and grow new plants. Plants release pollen into the air. The wind carries the pollen to other plants, and sometimes to human noses, eyes, and lungs. The most common sources of pollen are grasses, weeds, and trees. Each of these pollen sources has different seasonal peaks.
  • Some pollen sticks to the body of a carrier. The carrier can be the fur on an animal, hair, the feathers of birds, the bodies or legs of insects, or human clothing. This type of pollen is seldom carried on the wind (airborne). The grains of these pollens are sticky and larger than airborne pollen. Grains that are carried by animals seldom remain in the air long enough to cause allergic reactions. Most pollen grains cannot be seen with the naked eye. Airborne pollen grains are extremely tiny. The smallest can be carried on the wind for many miles.

Mold

  • Molds, a form of fungus, are found throughout nature. Unlike plants, mold need food and water sources in order to thrive. This food source is often in the form of a carbohydrate material, such as dead, damp wood or other cellulose-base materials.
  • Mold reproduces by the formation of microscopic spores. These spores can become airborne, and much like pollen, can find their way into the human body. Once in the body, mold can cause people to develop fungal infections, or severe immune reactions. Unlike pollen, mold spores rarely affect the eyes. There are many types of outdoor mold spores but only a few are allergenic.