Pollution prompts town to end ritual burning of tattered flags
Worn-out flags turned in for retirement won't have a ceremonial burning with veterans and reverent words to mark Flag Day this year.
Instead, the dozen or so garbage bags full of worn flags will be hauled in the back of a town pickup and dumped in a commercial incinerator for burning.
It's not a lack of patriotism forcing the move away from the flag-burning ceremony this year. The problem is the flags, which are made from polyester and nylon. Those materials create acrid, toxic smoke when burned.
"We're veterans, not environmental terrorists," said Peter Harvell, the town's veteran services director.
During last year's Flag Day ceremony, bags of old flags were burned outdoors in Cushing Park and the result was a scene less than honorable.
"It was a black, plastic-burning cloud," Harvell said. "It's just too toxic to burn."
Larry Herson from the Framingham Veterans Council said it took four hours of stirring to burn off the stinky goo of melted flags.
Many small flags are made of 50 percent polyester. Larger flags are often made of nylon.
Tattered flags from town cemeteries are picked up by town crews and added to the flags residents deposit in drop boxes. The bags of flags from those collections now fill Harvell's office.
"I have hundreds of pounds of plastic to dispose of properly," Harvell said.
Some of those drop-offs turn out to be small treasures. Harvell's duty is to inspect each flag to determine if it should be retired or can still be used. Flags that are worn out are set aside to be burned. Those with some life left in them could fly again.
"It's good to have spares," Harvell said.
And it's not just American flags. Brazilian flags are common, he said, and they all get treated the same. Last year, someone dropped a 1911 U.S. Navy ensign flag, bearing 48 stars, in a box. The four grommets indicated it was flown from the back of a ship, Harvell said. He saved that for his office in the Memorial Building.
While Flag Day is June 14, there will be no festival or parade to mark the day this year. Because of waning attendance and severe difficulty raising money, the Celebration Committee in April canceled all plans for a festival.
Doug Freeman, chairman of the committee, sent a letter to the Board of Selectmen on April 16, saying, "The committee has concluded that a festival of the kind done in past years is not possible in the current economic environment. The suggestions made by the board that a 'year off' might be in order have proved to be well-founded."
Rob Haneisen can be reached at email@example.com or 508-626-3882.
The MetroWest Daily News