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Fee raise accelerates Kirby tire-fire cleanup

SYCAMORE, Ohio - An increase in the fee to throw out tires will enable the state to clean up the Kirby tire dump in Wyandot County by 2007 or 2008 - nearly a decade earlier than officials had projected.

The state decided in June to double the fee for tire disposal from 50 cents to $1 because of the August, 1999, fire at the 120-acre site that killed thousands of fish in Sycamore Creek, a Sandusky River tributary, said Bob Large, supervisor of the scrap-tire management unit of the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency.

The higher fees take effect next month.

The scrap-tire fee generated about $3.2 million in 2000-2001. The legislature agreed to set aside 65 percent of revenue from the fee increase to remove tires at the Kirby dump, which is the largest in Ohio and among the biggest in the nation.

A contractor hired by the state is expected to remove about 3 million tires from the Kirby dump over the next year - equal to the amount removed over the last two years, Mr. Large said.

The state Attorney General's office has filed contempt-of-court charges against Kirby Tire and its operators. From May, 1999, to September, 2000, the state spent about $5 million to remove 2.8 million tires from the site and to clean up waste water, state attorneys said.

Both sides are awaiting a decision by Judge Kathleen Aubry of Wyandot County Common Pleas Court.

When all the tires are removed from the Kirby dump in 2006 or 2007, the state will remove the tires, ash, and oil that were buried as firefighters struggled to put the fire out. Mr. Large said that will cost from $2 million to $7 million and take about one year.

The fee increase will enable the state to clean up other tire dumps, in particular a dump with 237,643 tires in Harrison County that is next to an elementary school.

“It's about as bad a location as you can have for a tire site,” Mr. Large said.

Since a state law in 1993 gave the Ohio EPA power to regulate tire dumps, Ohio has cleaned up five dumps, Mr. Large said. It was working on the Kirby dump when the fire broke out in August, 1999, he said.

The Ohio EPA has guidelines on how to set priorities for cleaning up Ohio's 93 tire dumps. Among the criteria are whether they are near water sources or in residential areas where people could catch mosquito-borne diseases.

The state is spraying to kill mosquitoes at the Kirby dump, as the Ohio Department of Health keeps an eye on the West Nile virus.

The first reported case of the mosquito-borne disease was confirmed in late July in Lake County, when a dead blue jay tested positive for the virus. In rare cases, mosquitoes that sting humans can cause fatal brain swelling.

In December, 1999, residents who live near the Kirby dump asked state and local health officials to investigate whether the fire was linked to health problems, including headaches, nosebleeds, and other ailments.

Jenni Boyd, 27, signed the letter to the Wyandot County and Ohio health departments.

She said she suffered from headaches and itching in the days after the fire and those symptoms have continued somewhat, but she didn't know if the fire had any link.

A study by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and the state Department of Health concluded that the Kirby tire dump and Sycamore Creek pose “no public health hazard” because contaminants are below “levels of health concern.”

The burning of the fires released pyrolitic oils, which include benzene, toluene, lead, manganese, and zinc.

“It is unlikely that any contamination could migrate to the deeper groundwater that is being used by residents due to a thick, impermeable clay layer between the two water sources,” said the study, which examined groundwater, air, soil, and surface water data.

During an inspection in August, 2000, state Health Department employees saw oil leaching from under the piles of burned tires when it rained heavily.

In response, a consultant hired by the state EPA has built a second water retention pond to collect storm water.

“It was also observed that aquatic life had returned to the impacted portions of Sycamore Creek. The return of aquatic wildlife indicates a substantial improvement in water quality in the stream since the tire fire,” the study said.

The state EPA is collecting groundwater samples from the tire dump and the surrounding area every six months, and the state Health Department is analyzing them, Eric Yates of the health department's Health Assessment Section said.

But Leah Cutchall, who lives about one-quarter of a mile from the Kirby tire dump, said she remains concerned about the health of her family and others who live downwind of the fire.

She said she has bought bottled water since the fire because of concerns about her well water.

“I think [government officials] ought to do blood tests and all the children should be tested,” Ms. Cutchall said. “I'm worried more about the grandchildren. I'm afraid that 10 years from now, who will be sorry if children are sick and who will undo it? Nobody.”

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