Scrap Tire Use Raises Fears
The fire burned for nine months, billowing toxic black smoke thousands of feet above its Appalachian valley source and across five states. It would take 20 years and $12 million to clean up the remains of the tire heap.
At the time of the 1983 Rhinehart, Virginia, tire fire, about 90 percent of America’s discarded tires went to landfills. There, they would take up massive amounts of space, occasionally ignite, and collect water that created fertile breeding grounds for disease-transmitting mosquitoes. Today, in part because of actions sparked by the Virginia disaster and many smaller tire fires, more than 90 percent of the nation’s approximately 230 million tires scrapped each year are put to use — burned as fuel, incorporated into asphalt roads and, increasingly, shredded into components of products such as synthetic turf sports fields and children’s playgrounds.
Dr. Evans Afriyie-Gyawu, an environmental health and toxicology researcher, has begun investigating a practice he has so far confirmed in at least six countries, including Ghana: The burning of scrap tires to singe meat. His preliminary data suggests the singed meat is contaminated with toxic chemicals. But perhaps even more concerning to him are the massive plumes of toxic smoke that he has seen meat processing plant workers and children inhaling. “This is a huge problem,” Afriyie-Gyawu recently said in an interview with the Huffington Post. “It doesn’t sit well with me at all.”