The La Crosse County Health Department conducted a rapid health impact assessment (HIA) to determine the potential health impacts of creating a uniform open air burning policy within La Crosse County and how to assist communities in expanding adherence to Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources and state statue codes regarding the restriction of materials to be burned in outdoor burn barrels, fire pits and rings, and wood boilers. The health impacts selected for comparison were current solid waste disposal expenses (to the community and residents), the number of fire calls due to open burning (including unauthorized burning), the number of (and implied time commitment to) annoyance calls, and the estimated prevalence of respiratory illness in La Crosse County. An assessment tool was developed and fire chiefs and town clerks were interviewed to collect the information.
The HIA team faced several challenges during the HIA, including the wide range of regulations and enforcement of open air burning in each of the eighteen municipalities in La Crosse County. The HIA was conducted when many elected municipal positions were being filled with new individuals so collecting data with the assessment tool, and collecting information in general, proved time-consuming. Some contacts did not have e-mail, and in rural townships limited official contact hours are in effect.
The HIA made several recommendations, including continuing to engage municipal stakeholders to get more information on how solid waste service decisions are made and what barriers exist for cost containment, and the resources and community venues available to reach and educate residents about solid waste disposal services and open air burning rules and ordinances.