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Scrap Tires Keep Piling Up, Despite Regulations Meant to Manage Problem

Audit of DEP program uncovers almost a dozen new dumps, as well as compliance issues with known scrap-tire piles

tire dump
Credit: NJDEP

The state needs to step up monitoring and detection of illegal scrap-tire piles after an audit found about a dozen have popped up around New Jersey, despite a 12-year-old law designed to manage the problem.

An audit of the state Department of Environmental Protection’s tire-recycling program found that most of the major scrap-tire piles failed to comply with regulations and still need to be cleaned up. Further, 11 new tire dumps were identified.

Scrap-tire piles pose well-recognized public health and environmental threats, ranging from being a significant fire hazard not easily extinguished when ignited to contaminating groundwater supplies. They also provide a breeding ground for mosquitoes, a source of the West Nile virus.

In 2004, a law was signed to improve management of scrap tires by imposing a $1.50 per-tire tax on new ones. At least $2.3 million from the money raised from the surcharge went to cleaning up the state’s tire piles, which at the time were estimated to contain more than 3 million tires.

The DEP received the allocation in fiscal year 2005, but it no longer receives those funds after budgets and appropriations were modified. Over the next 10 years, annual revenue from the tire fee generated an average of $9.2 million, the majority of which was appropriated to the state Department of Transportation for snow removal, according to the audit.

Following the audit, the DEP’s enforcement officials visited 26 of the known major scrap-tire pile sites that were previously identified, and in most cases cleaned up, the state auditor said in his four-page report. Eighteen of the 26 sites were found to be out of compliance with state regulations and require additional cleanup, the audit said.

In addition, 11 new sites were identified. All told, the 29 sites found to be out of compliance with state regulations were estimated to contain approximately 350,000 to 565,000 scrap tires. One of the sites was a recycling center approved to accept up to 5,000 tires. The audit said the state found about 40,000 tires in a large pile and not stored in designated trailers as required.

Other unauthorized tire piles turned up at another 13 junkyards, according to satellite map software, the audit said. Department investigators estimate up to 156,000 tires had accumulated on those sites.

In a response to the audit, DEP Commissioner Bob Martin acknowledged illegal scrap tire piles appear to be a reemerging issue, but noted the audit found the vast majority of scrap tires generated in the state are sent to an appropriate end-use market.

Martin noted the number of illegal scrap tires has dropped by more than 80 percent since 2004.

“That being said, DEP does agree with the auditor’s recommendation to develop a process to periodically identify illegal scrap-tire piles within New Jersey,’’ Martin wrote in the agency’s response.

A case manager/inspector has been assigned to review and to assess the status of all scrap-tire piles, and a majority of inspections have already been conducted, according to Martin. The state is now pursing compliance at those sites, he added.

The department also intends to arrange for statewide overflights to identify other potential illegal scrap tire piles, which could occur sometime this fall or winter, the commissioner noted.

As part of its recommendation, the auditor suggested if state funds are used to clean up tire piles, efforts should be made to seek reimbursement, including placing a lien against the property.

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