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For the past several years, waste tire dumps have gained national attention because of large tire fires at sites in Virginia, Colorado, Washington, Wisconsin and Minnesota. While tire fires are the most widely publicized danger of tire dumps, other problems do exist, such as disease-carrying mosquitoes that breed in tires.

As more states enact waste tire legislation prohibiting the burial of tires in landfills, waste tire dumps will probably grow until tire management systems can be developed to properly manage, store and process waste tires. Pennsylvania is already falling steps to deal with the fire dumps issue.

What is Pennsylvania Doing?

Since 1980, Pennsylvania has had a solid waste management act to provide for the management and regulation of waste, including remedies, penalties and the establishment of a fund. Since 1988, Pennsylvania has had a policy that limits the sizes of interim tire stockpiles, sets requirements for adequate fire lanes and recommendations on reducing the risks posed by disease-carrying mosquitoes. Waste tires are a regulated waste and require a DEP permit.

The Waste Tire Recycling Act (Act 190), signed by Governor Tom Ridge on December 19, 1996 provides for grant programs, tax credits, and enforcement/penalty provisions to reduce the waste tires that are stockpiled and generated annually in Pennsylvania.

The Waste Tire Recycling Act provides for:

Tire Fires

Every year tire fires occur across the nation at small, unregulated tire dumps. Since 1971, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that at least 176 tire fires have occurred in the United States. Some tire fires are produced by accidental causes and some are set by owners who are eventually subject to large fines or penalties for setting fire to their tire dumps.

Putting Out a Tire Fire

Waste tires and waste tire stockpiles are difficult to ignite. But once on fire, tires burn very hot and are very difficult to extinguish. In addition, the doughnut-shaped tire casings allow air drafts to stoke the fire.


Using water to extinguish a tire fire is often a futile effort, because an adequate water supply is usually unavailable. Also, water sprayed on burning tires cools them down, producing an oily run-off which can contaminate nearby surface and groundwater.


Using fire-retarding foams is another possible method to extinguish a tire fire. Concentrated foams are mixed with water and sprayed through a hose. But foams can contribute to the run-off problem and are generally expensive to use due to the large amount needed to put out a tire fire.

Dirt and Sand

Smothering a tire fire with dirt or sand is perhaps the best current option for extinguishing tire fires. The sand or dirt is moved in with heavy equipment to cover the burning tires. This technique does not contribute as greatly to the oil run-off problem and is generally faster and cheaper than foams or water.

Smothering a tire fire is the method supported by EPA and has been used numerous times throughout the United States. Smothering was the method used by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA) to extinguish a 30,000-tire fire in Andover, Minnesota, in February 1989. Smothering was also used at a one-million-tire fire in Denver in 1987.

Allowed to Burn

Sometimes tire fires are allowed to burn when they occur in isolated areas away from surface water or population centers. However, a large tire fire can smolder for several weeks or even months, sometimes with dramatic effects on the surrounding environment. In 1983, a 7-million-tire fire in Virginia burned for almost nine months, polluting nearby water sources. The heat from tire fires causes some of the rubber to break down into an oily material. Prolonged burning increases the likelihood of surface and groundwater pollution by the oily material.

Scrap Tire Storage

To reduce the risk of a tire fire, the DEP requires the owners of waste tire storage facilities to obtain a general permit and comply with the management practices. The management practices are those specified in the general permit No. WMGR038.

Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes

Along with their potential as fire hazards, tire stockpiles also provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquitoes.

Because tires partially fill with water regardless of their position and absorb sunlight, they provide an ideal environment for hatched larvae. Although tire dumps are sometimes associated with rodents, the primary problem has been with various species of disease-carrying mosquitoes that like to breed in tires. In fact, \ pipiens is commonly referred to as the "tire pile mosquito."

Of the many species of mosquitoes that currently breed in Pennsylvania, at least two varieties are important carriers of disease. These mosquitoes, Aedes triseriatus and Culex pipiens, transmit two strains of encephalitis: LaCrosse encephalitis and St. Louis encephalitis. Recently, a third mosquito is cause for concern.

Asian Tiger Mosquito

This mosquito was introduced to the United States from Asia through shipments of waste tires into Houston, Texas, in 1985. Since then, the mosquito has been transported throughout the United States via waste tire shipments. The mosquito has been found as far north as Chicago, Illinois.

The infestation of the Asian Tiger mosquito is considered serious because of its ability to transmit several diseases. It is nicknamed for its aggressiveness when biting humans.

What Does the Law Say?

Recycling Alternatives Available for Waste Tires

Cement Industry

Asphalt Rubber

Paper/Pulp Industry

Consumer Products

Power Utility Industry


New Tire Manufacture Applications

Department of Environmental Protection
Bureau of Land Recycling and Waste Management
PO Box 8472
Harrisburg PA 17105-8472


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