SAN FRANCISCO—About 10 years ago an American gas station owner, pressured to remove scrap tires from a property, reportedly loaded the tires onto his truck, drove to the border at Jacumba, Mexico, and threw an estimated 2,900 tires over the fence onto Mexican soil. In early December, the scene was reenacted—in reverse. This time Mexican environmental protection officials were tossing the tires back over the fence to waiting U.S. officials in an unusual international undertaking.
``This was the first example of binational cooperation at this concrete level,'' said a spokesman for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the first effort to address such a tire pile problem.
Since the tire pile was clearly U.S. responsibility, the EPA said it complied with a request from its Mexican counterpart, the Procuraduria Federal de Proteccion al Ambiente (PROFEPA), to clear out the tires. The statute of limitations had run out on pursuing reimbursement from the responsible party, so the EPA took over responsibility for the cleanup.
But the international operation was a complex undertaking, according to the EPA spokesman. In addition to negotiating with the Mexican government, arrangements had to be ironed out with U.S. Customs to allow entry of the tires stateside and the border patrol had to be involved since pitching tires over the fence may have set off the fence alarm system, he explained.
The project also involved the Federal Bureau of Investigation, San Diego County, the Mexican Army and the California/Baja California La Paz subgroup which includes both countries' governmental agencies responsible for hazardous waste and enforcement issues in the border area.
When the cleanup finally got under way, Mexican officials were stationed on their side of the fence, tossing tires from the pile to U.S. officials who oversaw the disposal of 2 1/2 truckloads of tires. The EPA contracted Southern California Tire Recycling of Holtville, Calif., to handle the transport and disposal of the tires.
The international cooperation may set the pattern for similar future efforts, the EPA spokesman said.
The U.S. plans to address other illegally dumped tires in Mexico that may pose a danger to the U.S., such as tire fires, he said. But unlike the Jacumba pile, ``none are this clearly U.S. responsibility.''