May 8, 2014 12:45 AM by Maddie Garrett
Heaps of scrap tires could be a thing of the past in Colorado, thanks to a new law Governor Hickenlooper is expected to sign Monday. The idea is to transition to an all-recycling scrap tire system. Between Colorado Springs and Pueblo sits one of the largest tire dumps in the state, and El Paso County is pleased with the bill that would close it in a few years, by 2018.
But Hanover Fire Protection District Chief Carl Tatum warns that completely closing the tire mono-fills could have unintended consequences. He said the reality is that not all scrap tires are going to get reused or recycled, and they need a safe place to go. He calls the tire mono-fills a necessary evil.
At the GCC Tire recycling facility, about 30 to 40 million scrap tires are sitting and waiting to be recycled. The facility also falls under Tatum's jurisdiction.
"We know we've got a solid site here that we can protect and we can manage it," he said of the tire dump.
In recent years, the tire dump has been cleaned up and made safer, under new management of GCC and with help from El Paso County and the Hanover Fire Protection District. The tires have been put into pits and separated by roads 40 feet wide to make them more defensible if a fire were to break out.
"It's on our radar, we know where it's at, we've got fire plans in place for it," said Tatum.
But for some El Paso County leaders and state lawmakers, that's not enough. They want to utilize all of the tires and get rid of the dump sites altogether. Jim Reid, Executive Director of El Paso County Public Services, said even with all of the precautions, the tires still pose a huge fire hazard.
"They're extremely toxic and dangerous and they're hard to put out once they're burning so you can imagine 30 million tires burning. that would burn for months," said Reid.
He's been working with lawmakers for years to get rid of the tire dumps. The deadline is now set for 2018.
"We want to clean the mono-fills up and clean the county up," said Reid. "The answer is not to bury them, we really want to utilize them."
That's what's happening. GCC manufactures cement, and as of two weeks ago, the company is able to use the tires for fuel to make cement.
"They burn hotter and cleaner than coal," Reid said about the tires.
But Tatum asks, what if demand for the tires runs out? What if the cement plant can't or doesn't use as many as they hope to?
"What are you going to do with the tires if there's no market for them?" He added.
The fear is that without a mono-fill to bring scrap tires to, more people might start dumping them illegally in fields. That creates an even bigger hazard for firefighters, who could come across the discarded tires while fighting a wildland fire. Tires burn for a long time at a very high temperature and are hard to put out.
"A lot of time you're putting firefighters at risk by just having them out in the middle of the field," Tatum explained.
Illegal dumping is nothing new, and it's hard to stop admitted Reid.
"You can certainly fine them for contributing to the haz-mat, but you have to catch them and that's the hard part," said Reid.
But the rubber has already hit the pavement at the GCC mono-fill. New tires coming in are recycle only, coming with a $1.50 fee each.
"The tires have to be recycled, have to be utilized," Reid said of the site.
Reid said it is unlikely that GCC alone will be able to use up all of the tires at the dump site by 2018, but the hope is that other companies will also cash in on the fuel source or use the scrap tires for sports field cover and construction material.
The bottom line is by 2018, tire dump sites will be shut down and the only place to take your tires will be to recycling facilities.