Canadians’ collective consciousness regarding the risks of waste tires was elevated significantly in February 1990. Since that time, Hagersville has become synonymous with the risks of fire and large-scale environmental pollution associated with the improper storage and disposal of used tires.
The Hagersville tire fire involved approximately 14 million tires and burned for 17 days. Over $12-million was spent on emergency response and immediate cleanup efforts, not including the long-term remediation costs or the value of the scrap tires themselves. Extensive contamination seeped into the ground and groundwater in the immediate area and the images of the evacuation and billowing smoke were impressed upon Canadians via their TV screens.
The fire at Hagersville was not a complete surprise. The Ontario Ministry of Environment had issued an order in 1986 against Tyre King principal, Ed Straza, to improve the site. At the time of the fire Mr. Straza was appealing the ministry order. Clearly the ministry understood at the time that the facility posed an environmental and safety risk. That said, Mr. Straza (while reluctant to discuss the fire) has stated in the press that he does not believe he was fairly treated by the government whose officials, he contends, once encouraged him to expand his tire dump.
In order to deal with the 27 million litres of contaminated water pouring from the site, a small treatment plant was built to handle the outflow. Additionally, approximately one million litres of oil was pumped from the groundwater. To this day the environment ministry finds traces of oil underneath the site. In addition to the emergency response costs, the province has paid nearly $3-million to move contaminated soil and burned waste to a proper landfill and $1.2-million to purchase property and farms in the area of the site due to fears of contamination.
Eleven years later the Hagersville experience continues to compel one to re-evaluate the management of used tires throughout Canada. (See cover article in the April/May edition.)
Tire management in P.E.I.
A case in point is the management and disposal of used tires at the Queen’s County landfill site (commonly referred to as the Sleepy Hollow landfill) on Prince Edward Island. Owned by the Island Waste Management Corporation (a provincial crown corporation), the Sleepy Hollow landfill was home to approximately 600,000 scrap tires in June 1999 when it was taken over by Island Waste. While not as large in scope as the Hagersville tire “facility,” the Sleepy Hollow landfill is the largest landfill in PEI and was considered to be a risk given the state of the tires being stored there.
Island Waste developed a scrap tire mandate to reduce the likelihood of fire and to deal with the tires in an environmentally sound and cost-effective manner. After extensive research it decided to utilize a tire-baling technology that processes scrap tires into compressed uniform blocks that weigh approximately one tonne each. The blocks are comprised of approximately 100 passenger tires (or 20 truck tires) and measure 76x101x127 centimetres.
On November 30, 2000, Island Waste processed the remaining tires contained in the backlog. The ongoing baling effort involves approximately 110,000 tires per year and results in 5,000 tonnes of processed tire scrap.
The recent efforts to deal with the backlog of tires at Sleepy Hollow were not the first. By 1994, approximately 200,000 tires were shredded onsite by SWC Recycling of Fredericton, New Brunswick. By 1996 approximately 130,000 unshredded tires were shipped to SWC.
Meanwhile, in 1993 an access road to Sleepy Hollow was completed using shredded tires as a sub-soil beneath the roadway. The construction of the road consumed approximately 140,000 tires and has apparently resulted in a road surface that experiences less freezing damage than other construction techniques.
For now, PEI will deposit the bales produced at Sleepy Hollow in the landfill itself. Obviously, using landfill space for a potentially recyclable material is not desirable. Indeed, there are plans to eventually excavate the landfilled bales and use them, along with newly processed used tires, for other civil and environmental projects including seawalls, wharf construction, road building, drainage systems, flood protection and other projects.
There has been considerable interest from various private sector and government bodies with respect to the use of these bales. However, their use in applications (outside of landfill) in smaller jurisdictions, such as PEI, has not been fully realized.
Although there remains a significant need for the future development of uses for used tires in jurisdictions that aren’t close to large markets, scrap tire recovery and processing is a step in the right direction for reasons aside from environmental, health and safety issues. PEI’s $2 tire tax (green tax) is the lowest in Canada. So far, this levy has been adequate to pay for the program and generally ensure safe storage of a potential hazardous waste.