The Clean Air Act of 1970 directed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to identify and publish a list of air pollutants and to establish air quality standards for those pollutants in order to protect public health. States were then directed, by the Act, to submit plans detailing how they intended to achieve and maintain the air quality standards set by the EPA.
The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) had already implemented air quality regulations in the early 1960s through the South Carolina Code of Laws 61-62.2. This law basically prohibited outdoor burning. Forestry prescribed burning, because it was not included in the Clean Air Act as a major source of particular matter, was granted an exemption under this law.
In 1981, because of a growing concern about potential problems caused by smoke from prescribed burning, the forestry community developed voluntary smoke management guidelines. The guidelines were not written to restrict the use of prescribed fire, but to reduce the amount of particulate matter being released into smoke sensitive areas.
From 1981 to 1985, forest managers worked under DHEC's regulations and the voluntary guidelines. In 1985, DHEC and the SC Forestry Commission agreed to include the smoke management guidelines, as administered by the Forestry Commission, as part of the 62.2 exemptions. Wildlife and agricultural management burns were included in this agreement.
The Smoke Management Guidelines explain general burning limitations in terms of:
- Category Days (1 through 5) which indicate how well smoke will disperse based on the weather forecast for a given day;
- Fuel Loading which indicate average tonnage per acre for most types of vegetative fuels; and
- Smoke Sensitive Areas which define places where smoke might be harmful or offensive (i.e. highways, airports, chicken farms or neighbors with health problems).
See Smoke Management Guidelines for Vegetative Debris Burning Operations -- State of South Carolina for more information.