Some low-income suburbs of major metropolitan areas are dumping grounds for used tires. But who’s dumping the tires continues to stump the authorities. In one state, authorities hauled off more than 40,000 used tires last year… and more keep showing up. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:
Some low-income suburbs of major metropolitan areas are dumping grounds for used tires. But
who’s dumping the tires continues to stump the authorities. In one state, authorities hauled off
more than 40-thousand used tires last year… and more keep showing up. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Jenny Lawton has this report:
Today’s job is a small one — inspectors from the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency
have been called in to remove about 3-thousand tires buried in an overgrown junkyard in a remote
corner of Blue Island, a suburb south of Chicago.
The state is paying for this clean-up, because tires are more than a nuisance, they’re a public
This unpenned junkyard is overgrown with weeds and swarming with mosquitoes.
State EPA tire inspector George Skrobuton swats a big one from his elbow as he directs his crew.
“You’ve got all these tires here right now. They’re mixed between mattresses, garbage, clothes,
trash, leaves… See what they do is they get these tires out of the trees, the bushes, and the trash –
and they put them in a nice big pile, and they load the piles into the truck – it’s easier that way.
So, I mean, we’ll do the best we can, we’ll try to get every tire off the ground, if possible. And
hopefully, it’ll stay this way.”
The head of a back-hoe pushes aside a heap of garbage and its jaws close on a pile of almost a
dozen tires. Water streams from the knot of rubber as its lifted and dumped into an open semi
Skrobuton and his team have been called in to remove thousands of tires across the state, piles left
by rogue transporters who are paid to take them away, but pocket their fee instead of taking them
to be processed legally.
Some speculate the dumpers come from as far as Indiana to dump semi-truck-loads of the tires
under the cover of darkness.
Because these tires are on public land, Skrobuton’s team is cleaning them up for free as part of the
state EPA’s tire removal program.
But Skrobuton says this is a problem that just won’t go away.
“We can’t keep cleaning up these tire sites – it costs a lot of money. Y’know especially out here in
the south suburbs, I mean, there are so many forest preserves, and nooks and crannies like this,
that they could dump tires forever. And we don’t know where they’re coming from and that’s a
problem. Y’know, and unlesss they catch them in the act, we’re stuck with this problem.”
Over the last two years, dumpers left over 35-thousand tires in suburban Dixmoor.
With a population of less than 4-thousand, this poor suburb doesn’t have the money to remove the
tires… or fund a police force to keep the dumpers at bay.
So dumpers left their loads in alleys, vacant lots, even behind a school for years.
Village trustee Jerry Smith says the town was helpless until the state EPA came in and removed
all 18-truck-loads of tires last month.
“It’s just horrible, y’know – you go out there one day and it’s clear. And then you come back the
next day, you got 10,000 tires facing you. Well, what are you going to do with them? You can’t
pay the money to dispose them because you don’t have the money to dispose of them. There’s
nothing in our budget we got in there to dispose of tires what’s been dumped. So it’s just a burden
But the state EPA’s Todd Marvel says the town had to move the tires because they’re a health
He says the mounds of used tires draw more dumpers. And when tires catch fire, they produce a
toxic smoke, and Marvel says spraying water on them just makes things worse.
“So when that tire burns and you put that water on it, you’ve got a pretty contaminated run-off
there, a very oily run-off. And any surface water that’s in the area can be immediately
contaminated if that oily sheen is not contained properly.”
And, of course, there are mosquitoes. Marvel says each tire off its rim can breed thousands of
them, so these dumps are a breeding ground for West Nile.
Because of health concerns in the past, the state started a program to help get rid of these tires.
The state’s used tire clean-up program was created as a way to get the tires out of the state’s
junkyards, and into a useable industry.
People who purchase tires in Illinois pay a fee of $2.50 for each tire, new or used, which goes to
fund clean-ups and put back into the state’s used tire industry.
Most of the tires are shredded and mixed with coal to burn in power plants. Shredded tires can
also be used as the surface for everything from football fields to highways to playgrounds.
Marvel says the program has been so successful, Illinois’s demand for used tires actually exceeds
its generation rate.
“In fact, Illinois is a net importer of used tires. And the state of Illinois is constantly looking at
other markets and developing those markets to ensure that all of the used tires that we generate
and that all of the used tires that we clean-up through the dumps throughout the state have
someplace to go.”
But not all the tires end up where they’re supposed to go. Even though dumpers charge the fees
to process them properly, some of them steal the money and dump them in places such as
Dixmoor trustee Jerry Smith says once the tires show up in his town, they don’t have the money
to process them.
He says one company quoted him a price of $6 a tire. Multiply that by thousands.
So for now, he’s hoping the state EPA’s clean-up will last the town a long time.
Although the state EPA has offered Dixmoor support for added surveillance, Smith says a few
well-placed boulders and barricades seemed to do the trick.
Until last week, when 15 truck tires showed up in an alley.
Smith is cautiously optimistic this most recent find won’t multiply overnight.
“Let’s hope not. (laughs) I hope not. I really hope they don’t.”
But Dixmoor’s a small town and can’t afford a large enough police force to stop all the dumpers.
That means, chances are, abandoned tires will start showing up in back alleys and vacant lots
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Jenny Lawton.