Hamilton County's seasonal burn ban started today and lasts through September.

The ban is activated each year to insure good air quality during the summer months.

Ozone is the pollutant that officials are trying to control by prohibiting burning during the warm, sunny summer months.

Ozone is formed in the atmosphere when various chemicals are mixed in the presence of sunlight, and it is related to multiple health problems such as asthma and heart attacks.

"During the summer months in Georgia, the ozone in the air that we breathe can reach unhealthy levels,” said Wendy Burnett, Director of Public Relations for the Georgia Forestry Commission.

When burning brush, vegetation, and wood, the ingredients to make ozone are released into the air.

"Highly reactive forms of nitrogen oxides which form in the atmosphere very quickly form ozone," Bob Colby, Director of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Air Pollution Control Bureau explained.

Ozone peaks in the summer months with plentiful sunlight. By limiting burning, ozone levels are reduced which keeps air quality at healthy levels.

You can still apply for burn permits in other Tennessee counties until May 15th, but in Hamilton County burning is no longer permitted.

"The open burning is just another step that was taken locally because we had higher levels of air pollution," stated Colby.

Fifty-four Georgia counties are also under a burn ban starting today that includes Walker, Catoosa, Chattooga, and Gordon Counties due to their close proximity to Chattanooga.

"If you are in a county that is not covered by the burn ban, you would still need to apply for a burn permit before you do any burning," Burnett advised.

The permitting process is quick and easy. You can apply for burn permits in counties that still allow burning in both Tennessee and Georgia.

"Clean wood and vegetation are the only things that can be burned legally. Things that can't be burned are plywood, OSB, treated woods, stained or painted wood," warned Colby.

You also may never burn plastics, tires, insulation, shingles, papers, or cardboard.

The seasonal burn ban does not include recreational or cooking fires.

In Hamilton County, if you have a brush pile, Colby recommends leaving it in a pile and applying for a burn permit in the fall.