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EPA Put Out Smoldering Tire Fire at Penuelas, Puerto Rico Site; EPA Spends $400,000 to Eliminate This Air Pollution Threat

Release Date: 05/01/2014
Contact Information: Brenda Reyes, 787-977-5869, reyes.brenda@epa.gov, Elias Rodriguez, (212) 637-3664, rodriguez.elias@epa.gov

      (New York, N.Y.) The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced today that the fire burning underground at the Integrated Waste Management Tire site in Penuelas, Puerto Rico is now fully extinguished and the potential health risks from the smoke have been eliminated. The EPA was able to put out the smoldering fire in a pile of discarded tires at the former tire processing facility by using an excavator to separate the pile into small batches while the Puerto Rico Fire Department quenched it with water and foam. The extinguished material was then stockpiled at the site. The EPA began its work at the site three weeks ago at the request of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB) has worked in close cooperation with the EQB, the Puerto Rico Fire Department, the Puerto Rico National Guard and the municipality of Penuelas. The public is invited to a meeting about EPA’s work on Tuesday, May 6 from 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. at the Community Center at Tallaboa Seboruco.

      Tire fires are known to release cancer causing pollutants such as benzene, arsenic and cadmium into the environment. The toxic smoke from these pollutants are linked to serious health problems and can aggravate asthma. Scrap tires have also been identified as breeding grounds and habitats for mosquitoes, which are associated with dengue fever, a debilitating viral disease.

      “The EPA is pleased that we were able to put out this tire fire that smoldered for months,” said Judith A. Enck, EPA Regional Administrator. “Working hand-in-hand with local firefighters and Puerto Rico government agencies, the EPA was able to gain control of this intractable fire and protect the health of people who live and work nearby.”

      "Since early this month, our firefighters have worked with great dedication together with personnel from EQB and EPA to extinguish the fire that remained latent within this pile and after the development of a coordinated plan with the National Guard of Puerto Rico, the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources, the Emergency and Disaster Management Agency and the municipality of Penuelas among other agencies,” explained Angel Crespo, head of the Puerto Rico Fire Department.

      The president of the EQB, Laura M. Velez said, "After 5 years, we see today the union of wills with a common goal: environmental justice for the communities of Tallaboa Encarnacion and Seboruco. From the time I started to direct the work of the EQB, I placed this facility and putting out the fire among our priorities for the agency. Today we are pleased to have met our goal. "


      A pile of shredded tires approximately 60 feet wide by 150 feet long and 60 feet high caught fire in August 2008. The fire was partially controlled by covering the pile with dirt, but it continued to smolder underground for years. The EPA began its work to break up the pile and put the fire out on March 18, 2014 when emergency response personnel arrived to conduct an initial assessment. Air quality was monitored and showed occasional spikes of particulate matter or soot. A barrier was constructed around the smoldering tire pile to capture any wastewater from spreading into the surrounding area. The municipal government and local community were kept informed.

      The fire was extinguished on April 24, 2014. The pile of tires, tire scraps and related waste has been addressed, eliminating the threat of the fire reigniting. Over 12,000 tires were transported to a recycling facility. Approximately 8,000 cubic yards of material that were not suitable for recycling but were determined to be non-hazardous were left on the site and covered with clean soil. The EPA will remain on site to complete cleanup operations.

      While this site is not on the national Superfund list of the most contaminated hazardous waste sites, the work at the Integrated Waste Management Tire site was conducted under the authorities provided by the Superfund law. The Superfund program operates on the principle that polluters should pay for the cleanups, rather than passing the costs to taxpayers. The EPA is currently searching for parties legally responsible for the contamination at the site in order to hold them accountable for the costs of the investigation and cleanup. The EPA has spent about $400,000 on the cleanup.

      To learn more about EPA’s emergency Superfund work, please visit: http://www.epa.gov/region2/superfund/removal.htm.