Where Have All the Tires Gone?

Steve Morin, environmental response administrator for Rhode Island's Department of Environmental Management (DEM), Smithfield, R.I., says he received an early Christmas present: the removal on Dec. 20, 2000 of the last truckload of what was once a pile of more than 6 million tires.

Rumored to be a landmark for pilots flying into the area, the 25-foot-high pile began growing as a tire dump in the late 1970s and 1980s. Property owner Billy Davis continued operations on the 14-acre site until the state's general assembly passed regulations for tire recyclers in 1989, according to Morin.

Since then, removing the tires has been an arduous, 10-year process, says Leo Hellested, Rhode Island waste management office chief.

In 1992, the DEM sued Davis to force him to remove the tires, arguing that the tires were a fire hazard.

Further complicating cleanup efforts, was the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Washington, D.C., which declared Davis' land a Superfund site. The tires were in the way of Superfund cleanup.

One of the companies the EPA identified as being partially responsible for the site's contamination was Hartford, Conn.-based United Technologies Corp. (UTC). Although UTC unknowingly disposed of only one shipment of waste at the site in the 1970s, the company paid for more than half of the hazardous waste cleanup, says Jim Cline, remediation manager.

As part of its cleanup efforts, UTC removed 1.4 million tires from the site. Half of the 1.4 million were shredded onsite and sent to a landfill in New Hampshire; the other half went to a paper pulp mill to be used as fuel.

After removing almost 900,000 additional tires, Davis ceased cleanup in 1994, prompting the state to take over responsibility for the project in 1995.

But funding the cleanup proved difficult, Hellested says. The state's 75-cent surcharge on new tires, set to fund cleanup efforts, raised much less than expected and later was repealed, he says.

In 1997, the state awarded Browning-Ferris Industries Inc. (BFI) a contract to shred 657,000 of the tires and ship them to New Hampshire for landfill cover. Casella Tires, Elliot, Maine, then was awarded a contract in 1999 to remove the remaining 3.1 million tires and sell them whole to an engineering plant.

In total, the state spent approximately $3 million to clear the tires, including a $1 million donation from Rhode Island's oil spill prevention and response fund, Morin says.

Regardless of the property's future, state officials are glad to put this part of the saga to rest. “The major threat was from the tires catching fire,” Morin says, “and that risk is gone.”