The burning is being done in a homemade 55 gallon drum burner to heat a detached 2 car garage. I plant over 2000 canna and elephant ears each spring and dig them up each fall. I have an orchard with 7 pear trees, 4 apple,2 nectarine,2 cherry and 1 peach. When I plant and dig up the cannas and elephant ears am I absorbing heavy metals from the burning fallout? Is it being absorbed by my fruit trees into the fruit? I also plant a vegetable garden, tomatoes, peppers, pumpkins. Are these contaminated also?

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Whether or not your neighbor's actions are poisoning your plants, crops, or you depends on how much of each material he's burning, and on how he's disposing of the ash left behind.

Coal emits at least three heavy metals: Lead, Mercury and Arsenic. These are present in the smoke itself, in any fly ash (particulates) produced by burning, and in the leftover ash (coal ash). It contains other heavy metals as well. For more information, see here.

As for petroleum, many contaminants are removed during refining (especially Vanadium) because they cause issues with that process. That being said, at least one study has found high concentrations of Lead and Copper in liquid petroleum. Other heavy metals present were Zinc, Chromium and Cadmium. All five of these metals are toxic. I would assume that all of these metals are also found in petroleum exhaust as well as in any particulates produced by primitively burning them. Since your [insert your own pejorative adjective here] neighbor is burning used petroleum products, who knows what other metals or chemical compounds are also present in the exhaust and resultant ash.

If you're actually seeing particulates fall onto your property from your neighbor's actions, then yes, I'd say you're being exposed to heavy metal contamination when working outside and that your crops are contaminated. If I were in your shoes (in the US), I'd get scientific confirmation before doing anything. I'd contact my local university extension and arrange for testing of my crops; I'd also contact my physician and get appropriate blood tests, especially for lead and copper levels.

Are your neighbor's activities legal where you live? If not, a call to whatever governmental department regulates these things would be in order. Of course, then your neighbor knows who called and can act accordingly. If he's like some folks I've lived near in the US, you could then be in line for harassment, destruction of your own property (always at night, of course), and armed threats. Good luck.

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