A small, start-up tire recycling company from Mississippi is proposing to take over the cleanup and processing of more than 30 million tires in what may be the nation's largest remaining scrap tire dump.
Also, a state agency is accepting bids for the cleanup of 14.5 million tires near Abilene and the reopening of the recycling firm that generated them.
The Gibson tire dump-near the northeastern Texas town of Atlanta, not far from the Louisiana and Arkansas borders-spreads over 150 acres. It was first established in 1991 by tire recycler and engineer Bud Gibson, who hoped to establish a recycling business based on the $2 scrap tire fee Texas was assessing then on the sale of each new tire.
In 1997, however, the Texas legislature voted to discontinue the state's scrap tire program, and three years later Mr. Gibson was forced to close his business. That left the tires, all 30 million-plus of them.
Mr. Gibson shredded all but about 3 million of the tires, and fire lanes have been created between the piles, some of which stand as high as 25 feet. Nevertheless, either lightning or oxidation of tire wire has caused nine small fires to break out since the Texas Natural Resource Conservation Commission took over responsibility for the pile, according to TNRCC Tire Liaison John Forehand.
The TNRCC contracts with security guards who watch the site around the clock, using thermal imaging equipment to measure possible heat buildup in the piles. It must also contract for firefighters, because area volunteer fire departments refuse to put out further fires at the site. ``They don't have the ability, the equipment or the money to deal with tire fires,'' Mr. Forehand said.
The Texas legislature voted the TNRCC $5 million to remediate the Gibson pile. But according to Mr. Forehand, this is only about one-third the cost of removing the tires to landfills or other sites.
``I don't think there's a landfill anyway that would take 30 million tires,'' he said.
The TNRCC was accepting bids earlier this year for any sort of abatement or remediation at the Gibson site-``landfilling, mixing the chips 50-50 with dirt, whatever,'' he said-when Green Waste to Energy (GWE) Inc., a Port Gibson, Miss. firm, reached a deal with Gloria Lawson, who owns the land on which the pile stands.
GWE submitted its bid to the commission on the deadline day, April 1. Because GWE was Ms. Lawson's choice, the TNRCC suspended consideration of other bids until it received a detailed proposal from the company, Mr. Forehand said.
That proposal arrived at TNRCC headquarters in Austin July 15, and commission staff is now studying it to make sure it is complete, Mr. Forehand said.
Founded in 1995 by John Rivera-its president and CEO-GWE exists to promote the ``catalytic vacuum distillation'' process Mr. Rivera invented.
The technique is similar to pyrolysis, said General Manager Gerry Brent, but has much lower operating temperatures-about 800 degrees Fahrenheit, compared with 1,800 to 3,800 degrees Fahrenheit for pyrolysis. This reduces energy costs and creates superior-quality products, including carbon char, heating and fuel oil and tungsten steel from bead wire, he said.
``Our production process is continuous-feed, rather than the batch method pyrolysis uses,'' Mr. Brent said. The GWE process received a favorable review last year from the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, and Mike Maskarinec, the Oak Ridge scientist who reviewed GWE's operations, joined the company in June as its vice president of research and development. He now serves mainly as a liaison between Oak Ridge and GWE, Mr. Brent said.
``Most pyrolysis systems have blown smoke,'' he said. ``They've never done what they said they would. But we're here, we do what we do, and we're going to do what we promise to do.''
About 25 to 30 officials and representatives of the town of Atlanta came to GWE's pilot plant in Port Gibson to see catalytic vacuum distillation in action, he added.
Meanwhile, the TNRCC has received $2.5 million from the legislature to restart operations at the Environmental Recovery and Recycling Inc. site near Stamford, north of Abilene. It's accepting bids from companies now for that project.
ERRI founder Fareed Hassen started the company in 1991 to bring jobs to economically depressed West Texas, Mr. Hassen said. He started by producing crumb rubber, then in 1994 made plans to supply the asphalt rubber market based on the federal assurances for asphalt rubber use made by the Intermodal Surface Transportation Enhancement Act. The repeal of that controversial provision, however, caused the business to close.
Mr. Hassen said he is participating in the search for a buyer for ERRI. He is willing to act in an advisory capacity to the new owner, he added, but won't take an active role in the company's management.