NOVEMBER 2008

Arizona tire pile problem remains unresolved
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The State of Arizona is still in possession of the 6 to 8 million tires they seized from Steve Robinson’s Mobile-based storage yard, the now defunct Envirotech Industries International.

The Arizona Department of Environmental Quality has now passed legislation requiring privately-owned facilities with more than 500 tires to submit site plans.

Robinson, owner of Envirotech since 1997, had been collecting tires commercially, purportedly to produce tire derived fuel (TDF), and had contracts with Arizona’s primary population centers – Maricopa, Pinal and Pima counties.

The storage yard was located on land that Robinson had leased from the state. In 2007, he began defaulting on his monthly rent payments, and in time came to owe the State more than $870,000 in unpaid rent, security costs, brush removal, legal fees and interest.

On October 3, the Department of Administration (DOA) secured the right to evict Robinson and seize the tires. However, Envirotech filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy last December, which prevented the State’s seizure of the tires and other assets. Arizona still secured the right to terminate the lease due to a bankruptcy judge’s ruling following Robinson’s failure to meet a court ordered deadline by which he must assume the lease. Robinson’s lawyers did not return calls asking for comment.

Now, the State is trying to decide how best to dispose of the tire stockpile, which is located in the middle of the Sonoran Desert National Monument, which was created subsequent to Envirotech’s lease being signed in 1997.

The county is worried that the stockpile poses serious risks to public health. The tires are an imminent fire hazard, and with prevailing winds blowing from the southwest, any smoke and fumes from such a fire would be blown directly into Phoenix’s metropolitan area.

“We want to remove the tires from the site as soon as possible,” says DOA spokesperson Alan Ecker. “We want to make the right decisions and act in the taxpayers’ best interest. A tire fire would be catastrophic. Our primary concern is public health and safety.”

Due to the risk of fire, the State Fire Marshal ordered Envirotech to not accept any new tires, levied multiple fire-code violations, and spent nearly $50,000 per month to secure the facility.

Several state agencies came together to address the problem of the pile, including the Departments of Environmental Quality (DEQ), Health Services, Homeland Security, and the Fire Marshal’s office.

Ecker noted that in 2007, Robinson presented a proposal to utilize microwave technology to recover liquid fuel, natural gas, carbon and steel from the tires.

“Robinson came to us with technology,” he says. “We involved the DEQ and a demonstration was held, which could not account for all the emissions associated with the proposal. The DEQ told them that they needed to be able to demonstrate that this technology worked on a large scale outside of a lab and to account for all the emissions. We never heard back.

“Since this issue received press attention,” he says, “we have received proposals from 15 to 20 providers that purport to use some kind of technology, including microwave and pyrolysis, to recycle the tires. Because this deals with state contracting, it has to be a competitive process.”

The DEQ has since passed legislation to tighten up regulations regarding tire facilities. The updated regulations require privately-owned facilities with more than 500 tires to submit site plans to the DEQ. The agency may also limit the number of tires that can be stored at a particular site.

The State is eager to have the pile disposed of, and notes that the Envirotech site is the largest tire dump in the state.

“There is no other [dump] that comes even close to that number,” comments Mark Shaffer, the DEQ’s director of communications. Steps are being taken by the State to find people and companies that will use and/or recycle the tires. Says Shaffer, “One of the conversions has been for rubberized asphalt. There have been several contracts let for the production of rubberized asphalt and that has been a real solid use for these tires.”

However, the size of the dump makes progress slow. “The Solutions are out there,” Shaffer adds,” but when you have a tire dump on the Envirotech magnitude, it makes it very difficult. Private industry has not caught up with this yet and found enough of a market.”