AKRON (Aug. 18, 2008) — The situation tire dealers, haulers and municipalities and the state of Wisconsin find themselves in as a result of a massive tire fire and cleanup in 2005 at a tire recycling firm exposes a major flaw in the effort to have companies dispose of scrap tires properly.
Tire dealers and others in this group followed the letter of the law in arranging to have their scrap tires trucked away by licensed haulers and disposed of (processed) at a licensed recycler. Still, they are facing the prospect of having to pay for a portion of the more than $1 million environmental cleanup after up to 1 million tires caught fire at Watertown Tire Recyclers L.L.C. on July 19, 2005. That doesn't seem fair.
Because the owner of the tire recycling company can't afford to cover the entire cost of the clean¬up, the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is attempting to recoup costs by going after any other entities that records show may have contributed to the contamination at the site.
Watertown Tire Recyclers is now out of business as a tire processor but was at one time processing about 40 percent of the scrap tires in the state, according to Gene Mitchell of the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources.
The EPA sent letters to the 37 known entities that contributed tires to the site, stating it may file a civil suit against them to recover its estimated $1.04 million in response costs, since the time limit for the government to file a claim for recovery is nearing expiration.
The EPA legally can do this under Sect. 107(a)(3) of the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Cleanup and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA).
The EPA gave the affected parties only three days to respond to the initial letter regarding their willingness to reimburse the agency. The EPA wants them to sign what's known as a tolling agreement that would give them six months to exchange information with the agency and, if possible, to negotiate a settlement.
While this situation is unique, it illustrates how tire dealers, haulers and others can be doing the right things regarding scrap tire disposal and still get caught in a legal and financial jam.
It's not just scrap tires. A similar situation occurred in the waste oil industry, where the EPA bankrupted some auto repair facilities, according to Paul Fiore of the Tire Industry Association.
Seeing what is happening as a result of the fire in Wisconsin could prompt some tire dealers to decide they no longer should follow the letter of the law regarding scrap tire disposal, since they could end up with a problem anyway. But that's no answer.
Long a nationwide burden, the scrap tire problem is being alleviated as a result of responsible actions taken by those in the industry.
Dealers should do what they can to lessen their vulnerability should a similar situation as in Wisconsin occur for them, then work with their state and national tire dealer associations to try to change CERCLA as it is now written. And don't hesitate to get legal advice—before it's too late.