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Local Issues: Air & Water Quality - Tire Burning

Sierra Club Works To Stop Tire Burning In Nebraska

Toxic Emissions Pose Significant Health Risks

by Melissa Garner and Cammy Watkins
May 13, 2004

The Ashgrove Cement Company wants to burn approximately 1 million car and light truck scrap tires per year as fuel at its Louisville, Nebraska plant, which is about 20 miles southwest of Omaha. Ashgrove wants to do a 60 day “tire test burn” starting in summer 2004. For a modification that increases pollutants, such as tire-burning, Ashgrove needs to get a construction permit from NDEQ to allow them to install tire feed equipment for this test burn. To do this, Ashgrove needs to get a “variance” from NDEQ from Chapter 17 Construction permit requirements.

Ash Grove Cement Plant

View of the Ash Grove Cement Plant located near Louisville, Nebraska.

NDEQ is hosting a public hearing on the issuance of this “variance” at 7 pm on Thursday, May 13th 2004, at the at the Louisville Fire Hall, 122 Main Street, Louisville, in Louisville, Nebraska. For more information on this hearing, call the Sierra Club Omaha office at (402) 933-5792. Due to toxic emissions, tire burning in Nebraska would have a devastating impact on Nebraska’s air quality. We need your help to stop this! Please attend this public meeting.

If you can't come to Louisville for the May 13th NDEQ meeting, submit your written comments to the Sierra Club Omaha office, and we'll submit them to NDEQ for you. E-mail your comments by 5 pm May 21st to: sierraclubomaha@earthlink.net. Or, you can mail them to: Sierra Club, P.O. Box 31701, Omaha, NE 68132. Please help us to ensure that NDEQ does not allow our Nebraska air to be polluted from toxic emissions from tire burning!

As a national policy, the Sierra Club is against burning of waste tires. Incineration is not true recycling, and is not an “environmentally safe transformation”. Tire incineration is a one-time conversion that produces increases in known carcinogens, and poses significant health risks.

The Missouri Valley Group is working together with residents of Louisville, Nebraska to stop tire burning in Nebraska at the Ashgrove Cement Company. Nebraska already has the second highest asthma death rate in the nation, due to high numbers from central and north Omaha. Omaha experienced a 27% increase in asthma death rates from 1980 to 1998, while national rates remained stable. Allowing tire burning in Nebraska would have a devastating impact on Nebraska’s air quality and Omaha’s asthma death rate.

For a state like Nebraska, which has a huge agri-business base, an increase in air toxics means more toxins entering our food chain. Air toxins fall to the earth with rain snow, and dry particles, causing severe health hazards. For years, scientists around the world have linked microscopic specks of dust, chemicals, and smoke in air pollution to asthma attacks, premature death, cardiopulmonary disease, lung cancer and many other cancers.

Ash Grove Cement Plant

The Ash Grove Cement Plant at Louisville, NE is located on the south bank of the Platte River. This view of the plant looks south across the frozen river.

The Sierra Club discourages, under any circumstances, the use of tires as fuel. Compared to soil amendments such as fill and road base, burning tires is extremely polluting. Burning tires in cement kilns or power plants creates hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), and volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), such as benzene compounds (leukemia), dioxins and PCBs, which are not created unless tires are burned. In addition, the many metals in tires are released and disseminated by burning. Many are carcinogens.

Tires contain much higher concentrations of lead, arsenic, zinc, and chromium than does coal. Metals do not burn. Many will attach to particulates exiting the stack. Many states have seen extremely high increases in particulate emissions (over 85%), by substituting tires for less than 20% of their coal. Many recent studies on particulates show small increases in particulates (1-2%) to be responsible for observable increases in disease and death.

Published data is available from many studies from other states, which clearly demonstrate a serious public health threat from increased levels of toxic emissions due to tire incineration. For example, a California Bay Area AQMD concluded, after conducting a test burn at Kaiser Cement, that burning tires increased the cancer risk in surrounding communities by 20%.

Dr. Neil Carmon, Clean Air Director for the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club in Texas, states “In stack tests all across the country we’ve seen a significant increase in air toxics as a direct result of tire incineration. We’ve seen major increases in mercury, lead, zinc, dioxins, sulphur dioxide, carbon monoxide, arsenic, and benzene.”

Dr. Carmon also states that “stack test results from tire burning have shown a very large, and very troubling increase in PAH’s, or poly cyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, which is what is found in diesel truck smoke soot. The California Air Review Board Medical Advisory Panel has recommended that diesel smoke soot be classified as a known human cancer causing agent, and the EPA has agreed with this.”

A UCLA School of Medicine study found that over time, repeated exposure to smog and other air pollutants can cause as much damage to the lungs as smoking a pack of cigarettes a day.

Tire burning releases mercury into our air, which causes brain, lung, kidney damage, reproductive problems, and death. Just one drop of mercury can contaminate a 25 acre lake to the point where fish are unsafe to eat, making mercury the most common reason for “fish advisories”. EPA states that 6 million women of childbearing age have unsafe mercury levels in their bodies, and 375,000 babies are born each year at risk for neurological problems due to fetal mercury exposure.

The Sierra Club nation-wide has consistently and actively promoted source reduction and recycling of waste tires to eliminate existing dangerous waste tire piles and stop the practice of building up new piles in the future. Sierra Club believes that waste tires are a re-usable resource, and much opportunity exists for re-using tires in products and applications such as rubberized asphalt, re-treading, playground surfaces, sound barrier panels, and replacements for all-steel guardrails, carpet-underlay, and roofing products.

The Sierra Club encourages the Nebraska Department of Environmental Quality (NDEQ) to look at tires as a re-usable resource, and to aggressively pursue all feasible methods for source reduction and true recycling of tires. We believe that NDEQ should promote source reduction, recycling and composting before “environmentally safe transformation”, or land disposal. Again, we do not support the burning of waste tires. For more information call the Sierra Club Omaha office at (402) 933-5792.