Tons of discarded tires are among the debris fueling the massive fire at the George Town landfill that ignited early Friday morning.
With toxic clouds of thick black smoke visible for miles, the burning tires heaped at the landfill are estimated to be in a pile about 8 feet high, comprising approximately 83,000 tires.
These figures are from a report compiled by waste management consultants Gershman, Brickner & Bratton for the Cayman Islands government in 2008. The numbers are based on data supplied by the Department of Environment, which tracked intake of materials for one year. The figures are from 2007.
The report, “Development Plan for a Waste-to-Energy Facility on Grand Cayman,” estimates that 1,667 tons – or 166,750 tires – are in the dump’s three defined areas with discarded tire piles – North, West and East. The North pile of tires sits at ground level, while the tires in the East and West sites are piled on top of landfill materials. The fire is burning in the West site, with the tire pile there estimated to be 310 feet long and 90 feet wide.
According to the report, “Tires are buried throughout the landfill, and rise in time … which indicates that tires lie throughout the landfill site, both buried and exposed.”
The Department of Environment’s waste stream data from 2011-12 shows that around 70,000 tons of trash is dumped annually. The rubbish is divided into 21 categories, which include everything from metal waste, cardboard and pallets to foam, deceased animals and derelict vehicles.
Commercial waste accounts for the highest amount of trash at the dump, at 38 percent. Metal makes up 16 percent of the dump, residential 15 percent, yard waste 14 percent, and construction waste 10 percent are next highest amounts of debris in the landfill.
Around 395 tons of tires were discarded during 2011-12, accounting for 0.57 percent of the annual waste, according to the data.
The Gershman, Brickner & Bratton report tallied a total of 111,000 tons of annual waste in 2007, with commercial waste accounting for 41 percent of the heap. Tires accounted for .8 per cent of the garbage that year – at 630 tons.
Because of the hazards associated with scrap tires – including fire risk and pest threat – nearly all developed countries regulate their disposal.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 38 states ban whole tires from landfills, 35 states allow shredded tires to be placed in landfills, 11 states ban all tires from landfills, 17 states allow processed tires to be placed into monofills (a landfill designated for the disposal of a single material) and eight states have no restrictions on placing scrap tires in landfills. The EPA says 48 states currently have laws or regulations which specifically deal with scrap tires.
The EPA does not consider scrap tires a hazardous waste. However, if a tire fire occurs, tires break down into hazardous compounds including gases, heavy metals, and oil, the agency says.
The Cayman Islands government has made efforts to remove tires from the overflowing dump site, with the Central Tenders Committee putting out a tender in May of 2012 for their purchase, on-site processing and removal from the landfill on all three islands, though the issue was eventually cancelled.
The government is expected to issue another tender to remove the used tires early next year.