SMITHFIELD, R.I.—The state of Rhode Island completed the cleanup of a scrap tire pile with more than 6 million tires in December in what the state's Environmental Protection Agency is calling "a major environmental victory."
The large tire pile near Smithfield had been a nuisance to the state since the 1970s when its owner, William Davis, began covering pits filled with liquid hazardous waste on the 14-acre property with tires, said Stephen Morin, environmental response administrator for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The pile began accumulating before laws governing solid waste storage were passed.
Government attempts over the years to get Mr. Davis to clean up the site were halted when the EPA wanted first to perform a hazardous waste chemical investigation before any tire removal efforts began, Mr. Morin said.
The pile, once considered the second-worst tire pile in the country, grew as high as 25 feet in many places, the DEM said. At one time Mr. Davis bragged that the pile numbered 30 million tires, a claim the state has since found to be inaccurate, Mr. Morin said.
When Mr. Davis did not comply with a 1990 law stating that any tire pile with more than 400 tires had to obey National Fire Protection Standards, the state filed a lawsuit to have the tires removed.
In 1994, Mr. Davis signed a consent form agreeing to remove a designated amount of tires each month until the pile was gone or else pay the costs for the state to take over. He complied for one year, removing less than 1 million tires. The DEM took Mr. Davis to court again in 1996 and won the right to remove the tires. Using funds from a tire tax and more than $2.8 million in state money, about half the tire pile was removed.
The final 3 million tires were removed by Casella Tire of Elliot, Maine, and were paid for by an oil-spill recovery fund.
Casella took the tires to its facilities in Maine, where it will convert some tires into fuel and shred the others for civil engineering applications.
Now that the tire pile is gone, the state of Rhode Island and the EPA will oversee the cleanup of chemical waste and groundwater on the site.
United Technologies Corp. was found responsible for dumping chemical waste on the property and will begin a $20-million cleanup on the site, Mr. Morin said. Mr. Davis will be responsible for half the cost, he said.
"All the assets that he (Mr. Davis) owns so far that we've been able to determine are the 14 acres where the chemical contamination and the tires were located," Mr. Morin said. "He owes $10 million for the chemical cleanup and $3 million to the state for tire removal. And that's not counting the groundwater cleanup.
"Can we ever get the money back? I don't know. It'll be an interesting case."
The Rhode Island DEM has focused its efforts on another tire pile several miles from the Davis site in Johnston that contains about 250,000 tires. That dump, now the state's largest remaining illegal tire dump, will soon be cleaned up, Mr. Morin said.