PO Box 88 ~ Glendale Springs, North Carolina 28629 ~ Phone (336) 982-2691 ~ Fax (336) 982-2954 ~ Email:


March 28, 2002

Mark Barker (540) 342-5580
Louis Zeller (704) 332-3319

Roanoke County Tire Fire Emits Huge Quantities of Toxins

The Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League, BREDL, has calculated the potential emissions for several pollutants from the ongoing Roanoke County tire fire.

The estimated 2 to 4 million burning tires could emit huge quantities of hazardous pollutants, some of which are known or probable carcinogens.

BREDL, estimates that the Roanoke County tire fire has the potential to emit 293,831 to 587,662 pounds of particulates, depending on the amount of tires on fire.

Emissions of volatile organic compounds may range from 292,745 to 585,490 pounds.

Emissions of benzene, a known carcinogen, may range from 56,452 to 112,904 pounds.

Emissions of 1,3-Butadiene, also a known carcinogen, may range from 8,074 to 16,148 pounds during the course of the tire fire.

EPA studies have expressed concerns with the amount of polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) that are emitted during tire fires. BREDL estimates that 88,868 to 177,736 pounds of PAHs could be emitted from the Roanoke County fire.

One particular PAH of concern is benzo(a)pyrene, which is a known animal carcinogen and probable human carcinogen. BREDL estimates that 2,225 to 4,451 pounds could possibly be emitted during the tire fire. According to an EPA researcher, benzo(a)pyrene is of high concern because it can enter the lungs by attaching itself to particulates.

“To mention as a reference, the federal government should be notified when a pound of benzo(a)pyrene is released to the environment, that would be roughly around one-thousand burning tires,” according to Mark Barker, an officer with BREDL.

A 1989 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study showed that there are thousands of compounds present in the emissions from a tire fire.

Additional studies on air emissions from scrap tire combustion by EPA has found that open tire fire emissions include “criteria” pollutants such as particulates, carbon monoxide, sulfur oxides, nitrogen oxides, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also include “non-criteria” hazardous pollutants (HAPs). HAPs emissions includes polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), dioxins, furans, hydrogen chloride, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and metals such as arsenic, cadmium, nickel, zinc, mercury, chromium, and vanadium.

The EPA lab research, which BREDL used for these emission calculations, has shown to be consistent with measurements from actual tire fires, according to an EPA researcher. The BREDL calculations are based on 2 to 4 million tires burning.

While these toxins can have both short-term and long-term health impacts, it is hard to access the human health threat. Impacts depend on many factors including the amount of exposure, the length of exposure, the pathway of exposure (breathing, skin contact, etc.), other chemicals to which one is exposed, and individual characteristics.

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more info: Chronology of Roanoke County, Virginia Tire Fire