They’re a fire hazard, they can breed West Nile virus and, above all, they’re ugly.
They’re 320,000 old tires piled at 36 sites across Eastern Washington. And the Department of Ecology is working on cleaning them all up.
It’s part of a $7 million project to clean up 3 million tires across the state. In the 1990s, Ecology cleaned up 12 million tires at a price of $14 million.
“We don’t want to have a repeat,” department spokeswoman Joye Redfield-Wilder said. “We don’t want to wait 10 years to start again.”
The project, which is expected to be completed by the end of 2008, is funded entirely by a $1-per-tire fee imposed every time one is purchased, Redfield-Wilder said. The fee started in 2005 to pay for tire cleanups and will last until 2010.
The project includes 38,000 tires 60 miles northwest of Spokane near the Stevens County community of Addy, and 260 tons of tires near Royal City, in Grant County, according to Ecology documents. Tire piles near Omak, Davenport, Lamona, Ephrata, Quincy and Moses Lake are also targeted.
Partnering with Ecology for the cleanup is L&S Tire Co. of Spokane, which will truck many of the tires to its busy plant in the Tacoma suburb of Lakewood, company president Scott Sander said. None of the tires L&S is responsible for will go to Spokane for processing.
The company will truck many of the tires to a cement plant in Seattle for use as fuel for firing kilns, Sander said. Many of them also will be used as boat and dock bumpers. A small percentage, he said, will go to the Rabanco landfill near Roosevelt, Wash.
“Tires are starting to become a commodity,” Sander said.
The contract with Ecology requires at least half of all the tires to be recycled, Redfield-Wilder said.
Another project partner, Tire Disposal & Recycling Inc., of Portland, has the ability to shred tires. The rubber can be used for playground or track surfacing, Redfield-Wilder said.
But much of the shreds also go to Rabanco, Sander said.
A Michigan-based company, Entech Inc., is currently working to shred about 2.4 million tires at Washington state’s largest tire pile in Goldendale.
“The tires that come out of these cleanups are absolutely filthy, muddy, crusty,” Sander said. One of L&S’ recent projects was featured on the Discovery Channel program “Dirty Jobs.”
L&S employees simply use an excavator to load the tires into an open-top truck, Sander said.
The piles pose serious fire risks; burning tires are hard to extinguish and send out toxic black smoke. Standing water that collects in the tires when it rains is paradise for mosquitoes, Redfield-Wilder said. That means the piles potentially are breeding grounds for West Nile Virus, which is primarily carried by mosquitoes.
Though 80 percent of people infected with West Nile Virus don’t show symptoms, serious cases can cause fever, rashes, headaches, paralysis and neurological damage, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“Regardless of whether it’s West Nile or not, who needs more mosquitoes?” Redfield-Wilder said.
But one of the worst aspects of tire piles is that they’re simply ugly and take up space, she said. In Goldendale, millions of tires spoil a beautiful view of Mt. Adams, she said.
Most of the Eastern Washington sites are on private property and auto-wrecking yards. Legally, people can pile 800 tires on their property without regulation, but piles any larger must be reported to and regulated by health districts, Redfield-Wilder said.
“Part of our hope is that once we get all these renegade tire piles cleared up, local health districts will … be more diligent in regulating,” she said.