The Used Tire Problem

Health consequences from tire dumps
Scrap tires are ideal mosquito incubators as they absorb heat and trap rainwater, leaf litter and microorganisms. These factors promote the growth of mosquito larvae. Consequently tire piles can cause mosquito-borne diseases like Encephalitis, Malaria, Dengue Fever, Yellow Fever, Equine Encephalitis and St. Louis Encephalitis. Spraying the piles with insecticides is environmentally hazardous and costly. It is almost impossible to reach the depths in the tire piles where the mosquitoes breed. Dengue Fever is not uncommon on the Mexican/USA border. Globally it is the most deadly mosquito-borne disease. A 1995 American Health Organization study of Dengue Fever in several Mexican border cities found that over 3,200 people contracted the disease. On average 5% of patients with Dengue Fever die and the victims are mostly children under 15 years old. In 1981 an epidemic broke out in Cuba with 344,203 reported cases!

Tire pile fires

Because of the high BTU content in tires, they burn intensely and are extremely difficult to extinguish. Applying water causes significant groundwater pollution and the US Fire Administration in 1998 recommended that ecologically it is better to just let the tires burn out rather than try to extinguish them (the better of two evils). Tires dumps can burn for months or years. A tire dump fire in Tracy, California burned for over two years before being extinguished. There were 7 million tires in the dump. Tire fires have severe impacts on air, water and soil. When burned in the open, tires combust incompletely and emit both conventional air pollutants including particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds. They also yield when burned, hazardous pollutants including PAHs, dioxins, furans, hydrogen chloride, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyles (PCBs) and heavy metals like lead and arsenic. Tire fire pollutants can cause short and long term health problems ranging from skin and eye irritation to cancer, depression and nervous system ailments. Tire fire emissions are 16 times more mutagenic than emissions from fireplaces and 13,000 times more mutagenic than emissions from coal-fired utilities with good pollution controls (EPA 1997). Oil, ash and residue from tire fires seep into the ground and contaminate the soil with heavy metals and other toxic substances. Cleaning the sites where there was a tire fire is very expensive and many sites have to be declared as hazardous waste clean up sites. This results in a huge cost for the federal government. There have been over 200 major tire fires in the last thirty years involving millions of tires in each dump. There are a much greater number of tire fires set by arsonists in thousands of smaller tire dumps around the country. In a study funded by the US Dept of Energy that studied scrap tire disposal issues in the US-Mexican border cities of Juarez and El Paso, they documented an astonishing 306 tire dump fires that occurred in the year 2001.

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