For more than 13 years, the Missouri Department of Natural Resources Waste Tire Unit has been cleaning up illegal tire dumps that serve as breeding grounds for mosquitoes. But, the cancellation early this year of the 50-cent fee on each tire purchased in Missouri might have put an end to funding for the unit.
Since 1990, the tire fee has brought in $1.7 to $2.5 million annually, which was used in a multitude of ways to clean up between 1.5 and 2 million tires each year.
On May 14, the Missouri Legislature closed with two tire fee bills dying in committee. The two bills were designed to extend the tire fee ranging from 2009 to 2014.
The Missouri Department of Natural Resources said the state’s waste tire cleanup program is one of the 10 best in the country. The cleanup has had added significance the past few years because of West Nile virus. Because of the warm, dark, moist environment they create, each tire can harbor 10,000 to 100,000 mosquitoes.
In the past two years, 168 Missourians have contracted West Nile virus, causing seven deaths.
Since the program’s inception, the waste tire unit has cleaned up more than 12 million tires from illegal dumps in the state, including 50,000 in Boone County.
The waste tire unit has scheduled the removal of 630,636 more tires this year. That leaves more than 2 million known waste tires in the state with an estimated 1 million that the waste tire unit has yet to locate. Those estimates are based on the observations of inspectors who have been working for the program for the past 10 years.
“A lot of areas show up in over-flights (reports from pilots) . . . and we just can’t get access or for some reason it hasn’t been followed through yet,” said Philip Tremblay, public information specialist for the Solid Waste Management Program.
The program will continue until the fund from the tire fee is gone, but estimates vary as to when that will be.
“It’s really hard to nail down,” Tremblay said. His best guess, he said, is sometime in the fall. Earlier estimates said the fund would run out sometime in June.
“It’s based quite a bit on the schedule of the contractors that will be doing the cleanup, also with weather conditions, because of the wet weather, very few tires are being picked up,” Tremblay said. “They’re expecting that by the end of the calendar year, the money will be all gone. It’s really not decided yet as to what can be done and what will be done. It’s just too early to say.”
The cost of removal varies a bit, but generally hovers around $2 per tire. Once contractors collect the tires, they are sold to processors, the vast majority are then shredded, sold to utility companies in and around Missouri and burned as tire derived fuel. As they are being burned, the smoke goes through a filtering process and the normally polluting effects are eliminated.
According to a representative of Beck Tire International, a tire processing company in Kansas City, the tires burn cleaner than coal.
Burning is just one option for old tires. Other uses include crumbling the clean tires and using them as a playground surface, or melting them down into pads for playgrounds. Five percent of the money collected from the fee goes to grants that give recycled tire playground materials to communities.
In St. Louis and Kansas City, community involvement has been a major contributor to tire cleanup. Project Blitz in St. Louis has collected 30,000 tires, and Operation Tire Toss in Kansas City has gathered 20,000.
“Because we don’t have the funding to go out and clean up tires, we encourage people to recycle them,” said Lisa Danberry of the Mid-America Regional Council that worked in coordination with Operation Tire Toss. “It was well-received by the neighborhood groups and by property owners who’ve had tires illegally dumped on them. It’s a worthwhile program.”