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Tire fires pose hazard

BY SUSAN KIM | ROANOKE, VA | April 15, 2002

An illegal pile of 4

million tires burning outside of Roanoke, VA could

smolder for another week or so, according to Bill Hayden

of the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality.

Tire fires produce toxic runoff when doused with water

and usually are allowed to burn out, sometimes for


The dump where the tires are located covers about 145

acres and is some 11 miles from Roanoke. Roanoke's

94,000 residents saw black billowing smoke beginning in

March, when the fire ignited. Several dozen people

voluntarily left their homes when the smoke was at its

worst but returned when the wind blew the smoke in the

other direction.

Officials are building dikes and dams to contain

polluted rainwater. Virginia Gov. Mark Warner declared a

state of emergency at the site in late March.

The owner of the property was convicted operating an

illegal dump more than a decade ago. But authorities

have not been able to force him to remove the tires.

Roanoke County received a $1.4 million state grant to

clean up the site.

Hayden said if people spot a potentially illegal pile of

tires in a local community, they should contact their

local government.

New York has also faced an illegal tire fire, with

millions of tires igniting in mid-March at an illegal

tire dump outside of Waterford, about 11 miles northeast

of Albany.

That fire is now under control after being whipped by

wind gusts. When it first ignited residents saw black

fumes from up to one mile away, and they could hear

periodic explosions from drums containing unknown


Flames shot up 40 feet into the air and drew near to a

General Electric manufacturing plant, forcing about 100

people to evacuate.

Similar to the situation in Virginia, New York's 39-acre

Tire Storage Facility was ordered closed in July 1999

because the owners lacked proper permits and too many

tires were on the property. The state has since sued the


Scrap tire heaps dot the country in large stockpiles,

abandoned warehouses, roadside dumps, and rural areas.

Environmental officials widely acknowledge these tires

are a serious environmental and public health threat

because of the potential for fire and because tires hold

water that serves as a breeding ground for disease-

carrying mosquitoes.

Some state officials have begun spraying tire piles to

ward off the onset of West Nile virus.

Tire accumulations located close to major highways,

state scenic rivers and natural areas, and public water

supplies and other surface waters are also a concern

because of the possibility of off-site migration of air

and water pollutants if a fire occurs at a site.

Removal of scrap tires can cost up to $1.60 per tire.

The state of Ohio adopted stricter regulations against

illegal tire dumps after the Kirby tire dump was set on

fire by arsonists in August 1999. An excess of 20

million tires burned, sending a black plume above

Columbus, some 60 miles away.

The resulting environmental damage cost the state more

than $3 million as emergency crews collected the oil

that oozed from the burn area to keep it from

contaminating nearby Sycamore Creek.

By law in Ohio, scrap tire piles must be 2,500 square

feet maximum.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency offered the

following possible uses for shredded scrap tires:

-- gravel substitute

-- drainage liners at the bottom of landfills.

-- agricultural use to hold down tarps and covers

-- crash barriers around race tracks

-- backstops for rifle ranges

-- solid waste landfill leachate collection systems

-- construction demolition and debris landfill leachate

collection systems

-- on-site residential septic system leach fields

-- drainage around building foundations and building

foundation insulation

-- covering material for playgrounds if all wire is


-- construction material and lightweight fill in the

construction of public roadways.

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