Scrap tires remained a topic of extreme interest for the industry in 2006, with news regarding them mostly a chronicle of heartening gains though not without some worrisome setbacks.
On the gains side, various states showed steady progress in eliminating their scrap tire stockpiles. In Virginia, Gov. Tim Kaine signed a bill March 31 extending the state's $1 fee on each new tire sold until June 30, 2008. Without the reauthorization, the tire fee would have reverted to 50 cents on June 30, 2006, at a time when the Virginia Department of Environmental Quality estimated it needed $6 million to complete the cleanup of 2.5 million to 3 million tires within the state's borders.
Alabama, having voted in a $1 tire fee in 2004, began in August to clean up the state's largest scrap tire pile-about 8 million tires strong, comprising about 40 percent of all the scrap tires in the state-at the Four Star Wholesale Site at Attalla, near Gadsden. The cleanup will take about three years and cost about $7 million, according to the Alabama Department of Environmental Management.
Missouri-a state that renewed its 50-cent tire fee last year, after allowing it to lapse for several months-announced Nov. 1 a new ``Tire Dump Roundup'' program, in which property owners with 500 to 10,000 scrap tires on their land can ask the Missouri Department of Natural Resources to clean up the pile free of charge. Those who have had previous scrap tire run-ins with the department, however, are ineligible.
Ohio, meanwhile, entered the final phase of its biggest ongoing environmental headache-the cleanup of the Kirby's Tire Recycling Inc. site near Sycamore, Ohio-in July, with plans to finish by year-end. Some 5 million to 7 million tires remained at the pile, officials estimated.
At its peak, the 110-acre Kirby's site contained an estimated 25 million tires. The Ohio Environmental Protection Agency began cleaning up the site in July 1999, but on Aug. 21 of that year, a group of pranksters set the tires on fire. The blaze destroyed an estimated 6 million tires, creating a plume of smoke that could be seen in Columbus, 100 miles from the site.
Municipalities as well as states found themselves addressing scrap tire problems, some of them urgent.
The Broward County (Fla.) Environmental Protection Department (EPD) joined in August with the U.S. Navy, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explore the possibility of recovering and recycling the nearly 2 million scrap tires from the Osborne tire reef, a 36-acre site about 1.3 miles off the Broward County shore.
The tires in the Osborne reef were banded together as blocks and sunk in 65 feet of water in the 1970s, according to the Broward EPD. However, the metal bands have begun to erode, allowing tires to float free, crash into native coral and wash up on the beach.
Michael Blumenthal, senior technical director of the Rubber Manufacturers Association, said the Broward County experience is not typical of scrap-tire reefs, most of which have been very successful.
Scrap tire recycling technologies continued to make substantial strides during the year. Lehigh Technologies Inc., a startup company with a list of executives that reads like a ``who's who of the rubber industry,'' began operations in earnest at its plant in Tucker, Ga., making high-tech, fine-mesh polymeric powders from scrap tire chips and other recycled rubbers.
Long-established Edge Rubber, Lehigh's chief rival in the engineered powders business, announced in November an expansion of its production lines for ultra-fine-mesh powders at its facility in Chambersburg, Pa.
Akron-based Armex Inc. received $34,000 in matching funds from the Ohio Department of Natural Resources for continued research and development into its patent-pending Krumbuster reduction mill. The Krumbuster produces the full range of crumb rubber sizes, with increased production capacity, lower energy requirements and fewer moving parts than traditional mills, said Armex President Mark Hausman.
Also, Ecser Holding Corp. of Brooklyn, N.Y., applied for a patent for an engineered rubber product-made from recycled tires-that absorbs up to six times its weight in oil. The product has excellent potential as an aid in cleaning up marine oil spills, said Ecser CEO Moses Gutman.
Among the more dramatic scrap tire stories in 2006 was the effort of multi-state tire recycler GreenMan Technologies Inc. to return to the black after years of hemorrhaging money. Among other things, GreenMan appointed a new CEO, Lyle Jensen; moved its headquarters to Savage, Minn., from Lynnfield, Mass.; divested its wholly owned subsidiaries in California, Georgia and Tennessee; and negotiated a refinancing pact for a three-year, $16 million credit facility with its primary lender, Laurus Master Fund Ltd.
Meanwhile, after much legal and public wrangling, an effort by International Paper Co. (IP) to burn tire-derived fuel (TDF) at its plant in Ticonderoga, N.Y., ended with somewhat of a whimper. For months IP sought the go-ahead to conduct a two-week test burn, much to the consternation of officials in New York and Vermont, just across Lake Champlain from the plant.
Vermont environmentalists and public officials had tried to stop the TDF test in court, insisting IP spend some $10 million to $15 million for extra pollution control equipment. A company spokeswoman, however, had said the scrubbers already in place at the plant were more than enough to control emissions of sulfur dioxide, carbon monoxide and nitrogen oxide at well below legal limits.
After only one week of tests, IP decided not to use TDF at the plant. That move greatly pleased Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas, who had pledged to hold IP accountable for its test results.
The IP spokeswoman explained that as the company ``increased the levels of TDF we burned, we noticed an increase in the level of particulates. Above all else, we have to maintain our commitment to the environment and our integrity.''
The decision at IP's Ticonderoga plant did not affect the company's use of TDF at seven other U.S. facilities it operates.