Ohio spends millions to dispose of dumped tires

State officials are combining two scrap tire cleanup programs in the hopes of streamlining an effort that has seen Ohio pay tens of millions of dollars in the past two decades to decrease health and environmental risks.

The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency this year incorporated an Ohio Department of Natural Resources grant program into its office to create a centralized operation for handling tire cleanup funds. Previously, the Ohio EPA funded its own cleanup operations with a surcharge on new tires, while ODNR provided grants to communities for tire cleanup efforts.

The Ohio EPA has spent about $60 million on tire cleanup since founding its program in 1993, said Linda Oros, an agency spokesperson. Those funds led to the disposal of about 38.5 million tires at 437 sites, she said.

ODNR, meanwhile, operated a separate grants program that has existed since 1994. Its 247 grants have helped in the proper disposal of more than 25 million tires. The total grant total was not available, but ODNR has granted about $5.4 million in the past five years.

Such efforts in Ohio and throughout the country have helped the U.S. decrease the number of stockpiled scrap tires from about 1 billion in 1990 to about 111 million in 2010, according to the Rubber Manufacturers Association.

“I think a lot of it is ignorance, that people don’t realize how much harm you can do to the environment by dumping a tire,” said Brian Fowls, community program specialist for Montgomery County Environmental Services. “Now, dumping just one tire is a felony.”

Officials stress the importance of these efforts because discarded tires are breeding grounds for mosquitoes that can carry potentially harmful viruses. Also, fires involving old tires are especially difficult to extinguish.

By the early 1990s, Ohio moved to erase damage created by discarded tires and focused on cleanup. Those cleanup efforts have come in several sizes. In 2011, ODNR awarded $115,000 to the Greene County Combined Health District for cleanup of a site in Spring Valley Twp. that eventually totaled 94,300 tires weighing about 944 tons.

The health district used the money to hire Liberty Tire Recycling to collect the tires and haul them to the company’s Grove City facility near Columbus. The process included using a backhoe outfitted with a claw to transfer the tires into a large truck. The process took several weeks, said Mark Isaacson, program manager for water, sewage and solid waste for the health district.

“The open dumping of tires, where they’re throwing tires along the road or some back street, isn’t that big of an issue right now in Greene County,” Isaacson said. “What we have in this county are (offices) working with property owners to clean up the scrap tires collected on their property before (they purchased it).”

State money has also helped prevent the building of large scrap sites. The City of Carlisle last year received an ODNR grant for $10,000 to establish a short-term scrap tire recycling program for residents. The city had operated a similar short-term program five years earlier, so it didn’t anticipate as large a response from the grant-funded effort, said Greg Wallace, Carlisle’s planning and zoning administrator.

The grant paid for Carlisle to hire Rumpke Waste and Recycling, which collected the discarded tires in dumpsters, transported them and disposed of them.

“I didn’t think five years had been long enough to have that many tires come in, but it was a big response,” Wallace said. “You get everything from tractor tires to semi tires to small lawnmower tires.

“It’s a great opportunity for smaller communities. It’s expensive. In a smaller community, we would not have been able to do it (without a grant).”

Others have organized to battle the issue. In Montgomery County, the cities of Dayton and Trotwood as well as Jefferson Twp., the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office and Public Health - Dayton & Montgomery County formed the Don’t Dump Tires Task Force in 2011. It has worked to create awareness while focusing on enforcement, using a state grant to install security cameras in trouble areas. Next year, it will pay to assign a full-time sheriff’s deputy to investigating dump sites.

Officials hope their efforts will lead to prosecutions as well as a decrease in dumping as the public gains a better understanding of the issue.

“The idea is to hopefully educate people in those aspects and really make a dent in the illegal dump sites,” Fowls said. “Not just tires, but dump sites in general. That’s the next step.”

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