Tired out

Tire amnesty program aims to keep cast-off tires from collecting at illegal dump sites

Members of the Chico Rugby Foundation assist at the county’s annual Tire Amnesty Program.

Members of the Chico Rugby Foundation assist at the county’s annual Tire Amnesty Program.

Photo courtesy of Steve Rodowick

In August 1998, a grass fire spread to an unlicensed tire dump outside of Tracy, igniting 7 million tires that had accumulated at the site over several decades. Fearing attempts to extinguish the fire with water would contaminate the groundwater supply, public officials decided to let the fire burn itself out, which it eventually did … 26 months later.

The following fall, a lightning strike sparked another tire fire less than 30 minutes away from Tracy, in Westley. That fire was extinguished five weeks later at a cost of over $3 million, but not before causing breathing problems and nosebleeds in area residents and flooding a nearby stream with pyrolysis oil that set the waterway ablaze.

These and other incidents helped spur a concentrated effort by state and county governments to clean up tire dumps, efforts that Butte County Recycling Coordinator Steve Rodowick has helped oversee locally for the past 12 years.

Rodowick said most of the county’s large “legacy” tire dumps, such as one spot south of Oroville where more than 13,000 tires had been left in old mine tailings ponds, have since been cleared with help of a Farm and Ranch Solid Waste Cleanup and Abatement grant program administered by the state’s Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle).

“What we used to suffer from scofflaw tire haulers has pretty much come to an end, and the legacy dumps have been cleaned up,” Rodowick explained. “What we’re doing now is more of a maintenance situation to address the smaller generators, like shade tree mechanics and people who get new tires and don’t want to pay the nominal disposal fee at the retailer. Our goal is keeping small clusters of tires from becoming larger dump sites.”

To that end, the county coordinates an annual tire amnesty program, the next installment of which will take place on Saturday, Sept. 26, at the Highway 70 industrial park in Oroville. At the event, which usually draws a lengthy line of vehicles along Feather River Boulevard, residents are invited to turn in passenger car and light truck tires free of charge. Tires are accepted on the rim or off, although no oversize, off-road, or semi-truck tires over 36 inches will be collected.

Disposal fees are generally $2 at the Neal Road Recycling and Waste Facility, doubled for tires on rims, and slightly higher at commercial tire dealers.

Rodowick said many of the people who make use of the amnesty program are rural property owners who get tires dumped on their land or responsible citizens who collect them from the sides of roads.

He also noted state transportation regulations prohibit the hauling of more than nine waste tires without a waiver from the county Environmental Health Department, and that applications for waivers are available online, at the Public Works office in Oroville, and will be printed in local papers before collection day. With the waiver, people can haul up to 20 tires, and everyone can make multiple trips.

Last year, the amnesty event collected 81.38 tons, or about 6,500 tires. Rodowick said it’s common to collect 85 to 95 tons each year, and one year it collected 136 tons.

“We usually fill about 10 to 12 28-foot trailers,” Rodowick said, explaining the tires are hauled away by Sacramento-based company Waste Recovery West Inc. They are then used for energy generation or refabricated for alternative surfaces such as rubberized asphalt and playground cover.

Loading, unloading and moving that many tires requires some Herculean effort, and Rodowick and a small team of county public works personnel will be assisted this year—as they have in years past—by about two dozen volunteers from the Chico Rugby Foundation and the Butte County Mosquito and Vector Control District.

Vector control also has an interest in getting tires out of the natural environment: “When you have piles of tires, or even a single one, they can sit through the winter and collect rainwater, and then make perfect mosquito breeding habitats come spring and summertime,” Rodowick said, noting mosquitoes can carry West Nile virus and other deadly diseases that effect humans and livestock.

“They can also become homes for rodents, snakes and all kinds of other nasty things,” he continued.

In addition to the Farm and Ranch and tire amnesty programs, Rodowick said his department has another tool to ensure that large-scale tire dumps remain a memory.

“We also use solid waste code enforcement to audit all the tire dealers and make sure the junk tires they generate end up in a permitted tire end-use facility,” he said.