By Marcia Anderson
I have a vivid memory of visiting a childcare center on Staten Island, NY. When I approached a corner of the backyard, a swarm of mosquitoes must have sensed me and dive-bombed onto every exposed part of my body. I was bitten repeatedly from my head down to my shoes. When I peered over the fence into the neighboring yard, I saw thousands of mosquitoes congregating around a pile of discarded tires.
Although many scrap tires are brought to state approved disposal sites, many also wind up in illegal dump sites. Untold more are thrown along roadways or stored in yards. Tire stockpiles present a threat to human health and the environment for several reasons.
Why are improperly stored tires hazardous to your health?
Each tire in a yard, if improperly stored, can become a breeding ground for thousands of mosquitoes which can carry life-threatening diseases such as dengue fever, West Nile virus and various forms of encephalitis.
The design of tires provides an ideal nursery for mosquito larvae. Tires fill with water after a rainstorm and retain the water as some of the inside areas of the tires are shaded continuously, preventing evaporation of the trapped water. Tires are somewhat insulated and retain heat for long periods of time that speeds up mosquito egg hatching and larval growth. They also collect leaf litter and debris that provides nutrition for the larvae.
Despite over 30 years of efforts to address scrap tires, stockpiles continue to be a problem across the U.S. According to the Rubber Manufacturers Association, over 290 million more tires are scrapped every year, and over 653 million tons of these are land-disposed. Tires in dumps are difficult to clean up due to the sheer numbers and because trees grow through them and trash, leaves, garbage, and water collect in them.
Tires on playgrounds as part of climbing or swinging structures are another potential breeding site. Ensure that the tires, and other children’s outdoor play structures have drainage holes and that the holes are kept unblocked by debris, such as leaves, to maintain water flow.
Mosquito Control: The most effective mosquito control is to keep tires dry. Pesticides applied to tire piles to control larval or adult mosquitoes may not be fully effective. Shredding tires, or otherwise rendering them incapable of holding water, is usually more effective than pesticides. If you must keep tires, store them indoors or stack and cover them with a tarp to prevent them from collecting water. Drill holes in tires in play equipment or other tire sculptures to allow water drainage and prevent future water accumulation. Keep vegetation and grasses around tires short, reducing resting sites for adult mosquitoes.
Tire Recycling: Over 1.3 million pounds of tires are recycled each year by chopping them into high grade rubber nuggets. Some are reincorporated in the manufacture of new tires while others are converted into a urethane binder to make sidewalks, playground surfaces, and basketball courts. Roads in some areas are resurfaced using tire chips for backfill and insulation, giving asphalt both springiness and longer life. In New Hampshire, Timberland is putting tires back on the road in boots and shoes with soles made of recycled rubber. And as of 2009, 40% of scrap tires are used in energy generation due to their high BTU content.
When Buying New Tires, Recycle Your Old Tires: Businesses that sell or install tires must take back tires of approximately the same size that they sell. The fee for the collection of old tires is included in the cost of new tires.
In New York City, the Department of Sanitation will accept up to four tires from passenger cars at any of its garages or at one of the department’s household special waste drop-off sites. For more information go to New York City Department of Sanitation’s website or dial 3-1-1. There are similar programs across the country; contact your local Department of Public Works for drop sites.
About the Author: About the Author: Marcia is with EPA’s Center of Expertise for School IPM in Dallas, Texas. She holds a PhD in Environmental Management from Montclair State University along with degrees in Biology, Environmental Design, Landscape Architecture, and Instruction and Curriculum. Marcia was formerly with the EPA Region 2 Pesticides Program and has been a professor of Earth and Environmental Studies, Geology, and Oceanography at several universities.