Ecosystem Local News

Athens County Prosecutor’s Office takes part in local tire cleanup

By Kelly Fisher, staff writer

Photo by Kelly Fisher. Tires illegally dumped in Athens County.
Photo by Kelly Fisher.
Tires illegally dumped in Athens County.

If you leave your scrap tires on the side of the road or in the woods, you wouldn’t expect to be thrown into a pair of handcuffs, would you? Turns out, you’d be contributing to one of southern Ohio’s largest, long-standing environmental problems.

Tire dumping, the illegal disposal of one’s old tires, has been an environmental and public health concern for the past few decades — roughly 30 to 50 years — said Mike Cooper, who works in environmental health at the Athens City-County Health Department.

Cooper explained that there are a few roadblocks to disposing of tires in a healthier way. “It’s not cheap. It’s not outrageous expensive, but it’s not cheap. (Another) problem is just that tire shops that dispose of them are out in the counties… It’s easier to throw them out than pay to have them properly disposed of.” If disposing of tires when buying new ones, it typically costs an individual $4 per tire, on average.

If not disposed of properly, Cooper continued, there are several adverse effects that the tires can have on the environment, but one of the main ones is the breeding of mosquitoes: one tire can breed tens of thousands of mosquitoes, which makes the “potential for the spread of disease pretty astronomical,” Cooper said, adding that the tires are also a fire hazard and “if they catch fire, it’s almost impossible to put them out.”

According to the Ohio Administrative Code, tire dumping is a state crime because the tires are considered solid waste. A document from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency points out that that the Ohio Revised Code states, “No person shall dispose of solid wastes by open burning or open dumping, except as authorized by the director of environmental protection.”

“Open burning” is defined in the Ohio Revised Code as the burning of solid wastes, such as scrap tires in an open area or burning of solid wastes in a type of chamber or vessel that is not approved or authorized. “Open dumping” is defined in the Ohio Revised Code as the depositing of solid wastes, such as scrap tires, into a body or stream of water or onto the surface of the ground at a site that is not licensed as a solid waste facility under the Ohio Revised Code, or, “if the solid wastes consist of scrap tires, as a scrap tire collection, storage, monocell, monofill or recovery facility under (the Ohio Revised Code).”

A release from the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office adds that by state law, an individual cannot transport more than 10 tires per load without being a registered scrap tire transporter with the State of Ohio. If caught transporting more than 10 tires without a permit, an individual could be subject to a traffic stop and investigation by law enforcement.

The Ohio EPA document also explains that depending on the case, criminal prosecution could be considered, adding that “Transporting scrap tires without being registered, open burning and open dumping may be prosecuted as a felony offense in Ohio with a fine of at least $10,000 but not more than $25,000, or imprisonment for at least two years, but not more than four years, or both,” which is explained in the Ohio Revised Code.

To alleviate the problem, the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office teams up with the City-County Health Department, the Ohio EPA, the Wayne National Forest and other organizations to hold tire cleanup events regularly, during which members of the Athens County Empowerment (ACE) diversion program serve their community service obligations by collecting tires from Athens County residents at several locations to send them to be disposed of properly. They did not charge for the tire collection.

“Through the ACE program, offenders are given the opportunity to contribute to the community through events such as this,” a release from the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office states. “In turn, each individual receives the training necessary in order to be become a productive citizen of Athens County.” The program kicked off as part of Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn’s Community Justice Initiative.

Photo provided by the office of Keller Blackburn, Athens County Prosecuter Attorney. Men help clean up tires on April 11, 2015.

On Saturday, April 11, there were a total of 16 members of the Diversion Program at four locations: the Wayne National Forest, Amesville Township, Lodi Township and Alexander Township. Director of the Diversion Program Josh Bishop said there were more than 2,000 tires collected.

The company used to collect the tires in semi-truck trailers brought them back to Columbus, where the company is located, and to weigh the contents of the trailers to figure out exactly how many tires were collected. The Diversion Program’s event “helps eliminate some of (the tire dumping problem) because it gives people another option,” Bishop said.

“Both Athens County and our ACE participants benefit from these activities,” Blackburn said in the release. “The participants engage in community service opportunities while cleaning up Athens County.”

Tires were accepted between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. The group collected tires that did not exceed 54 inches in height and/or 16 inches in width and had to be free of water, dirt and mud upon collection, according to the release from the Athens County Prosecutor’s Office.

Due to weight constraints set by state law, the tire collection had to be capped at 1,200 tires at each location, and the Wayne National Forest location reached that limit.

“I’ve worked with the Prosecutor’s Office on four occasions so far for this type of support and it’s always gone well,” Ann Cunningham, Ames Township trustee who took part in hosting the event, said in the release. I’ve had two tire disposals, painted the township community room and had diversion workers help us trim trees along the road. The workers show up, they’re motivated, physically able, polite and willing to participate in a team environment. I hope that it shows them that they made a poor choice, but they’ll not be condemned for it. They have a chance to work their way out of a bad situation, and move on.”

Bishop said that the diversion program will hold their next tire collection event in the fall, although there is no date set yet. As far as the health department’s involvement, Cooper said that the Athens City-County Health Department will team up with the other local organizations to host two more events before the end of June, when their grant from the Ohio EPA is up. The grant covers eight tire cleanup events in Athens County and eight in Hocking County, and is what made the free collection on April 11 possible. The health department has applied for more grant funding to go into effect for the cycle beginning July 1.

Roger Bail of the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste Management District manages the grant for the health department because in previous years if the health department submitted the grant request to the Ohio EPA, only Athens County would receive funding for the tire cleanups. But because Bail submitted the request from the Athens-Hocking Solid Waste District, Hocking County also receives funding.

Last year, the district received $28,290 in funding. Bail explained that there is not yet a total known for this year because the grant provides a base of $3,180 at the beginning of the cycle, and everything else from there is reimbursement based on scrap tires collected.

The grant has served Bern Township, Wayne National Forest, Alexander Township, Laurel Township, Starr Township, Benton Township and the Hocking County Fairgrounds, among others, throughout 2014 and 2015.

If you notice any suspicious behavior or tires disposed of improperly, you are encouraged to alert the Ohio EPA. The closest branch is the Southeast District Office located in Logan at (800) 686-7330.

Kelly is a junior who cannot believe she is already more than halfway done with her time in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. Aside from College Green, she spends her time writing for OU’s College of Health Sciences and Professions and working on the Young African Leaders Initiative through the Institute for International Journalism…

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