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Remediation success story: Gatesville tire site cleanup

June 29, 2020 – TCEQ, GLO, EPA work together, return land to natural state

By Brian McGovern, TCEQ External Relations, with storyboard by Laura Fanestiel, TCEQ Waco office

An excavator loads scrap tires into a waiting truck as part of the multi-agency cleanup effort at the Gatesville scrap tire site where 268,000 scrap tires once littered the landscape.
An excavator loads scrap tires into a waiting truck as part of the multi-agency cleanup effort at the Gatesville scrap tire site where 268,000 scrap tires once littered the landscape.
Illegally discarded scrap tires littered the landscape prior to being hauled away for recycling and disposal.
Illegally discarded scrap tires littered the landscape prior to being hauled away for recycling and disposal.

It might be hard to imagine that a particular piece of pastureland just west of Fort Hood was, until recently, the site of an environmental nightmare.

Near the intersection of County Road 140 and Farm-to-Market 1783 sits the “Gatesville tire site.” For 17 years, it served as a dumping ground for used and discarded tires. During that time, a staggering 268,000 tires accumulated on the 40-acre property.

A worsening situation

The Texas Administrative CodeExit the TCEQ details the requirements for proper disposal and reporting of used tires. As the property owner continually ignored this law, the tires continued to pile up.

A TCEQ vehicle travels along a clear road that was once littered with scrap tires. Thanks to the multi-agency cleanup effort, the property is now free of scrap tires.
A TCEQ vehicle travels along a clear road that was once littered with scrap tires. Thanks to the multi-agency cleanup effort, the property is now free of scrap tires.

The improper disposal of scrap tires presents several problems. First, rainwater accumulates inside, and due to their shape, that water doesn’t drain into the ground or readily evaporate into the dry air. This creates an ideal habitat for the breeding of mosquitoes and other insects, which can then carry diseaseExit the TCEQ to humans and animals. The other problem is the potential for fires. Besides being difficult to extinguish, the combustion of vulcanized rubber releases toxins into the air and produces nuisance odors.

Neighbors on nearby land began to complain about the site to TCEQ beginning in 2000. The agency immediately dispatched environmental investigators based out of the Waco regional office. The investigators’ numerous visits to the site, and resulting investigations, led to multiple enforcement actions, including fines as well as orders directing the responsible party to either clean up the site or to properly manage the tires.

After the agency exhausted all its possible enforcement options, the case was elevated to the state Attorney General’s office for the development of additional enforcement proceedings.

Meanwhile, the property owner abandoned the land, and in 2005 defaulted on the property loan. Ownership of the land reverted to the Texas General Land Office. GLO immediately began the process of securing grants and allocating state funding for the cleanup and remediation of the site. TCEQ and GLO worked together to find ways to clean and return the site to its natural condition.

Problems and solutions

Scrap tires lined the road on the property near Gatesville prior to the multi-agency cleanup effort.
Scrap tires lined the road on the property near Gatesville prior to the multi-agency cleanup effort.

An obvious solution in the minds of eco-conscious Texans might be to find ways to recycle the tire rubber. It was not until a site tour of a metal recycler in the Waco region that a workable alternative could be realized. During the site tour both Area Director Susan Jablonski and Austin and Waco Regional Director David Van Soest noticed scrap tires being used in their recycling process as a steel and carbon source. Knowing about the Gatesville tire site and many other tire sites across the state, and the potential to keep scrap tires from going into area landfills or being illegally dumped, a possible solution started to take shape.

One problem, however, was that the tires were classified as waste. Designating the rubber for beneficial use would require some clarification of the EPA's Non-Hazardous Secondary Materials Rule. This rule effectively prevented the discarded tires at the site from being used for fuel in things like cement kilns.

“So in response, we started to inquire with our EPA counterparts to review available options and discuss how EPA determined whether the scrap tires at this or similar sites across the state were categorized as a solid waste instead of a useable/recyclable material,” Van Soest said.

TCEQ and GLO worked continuously with EPA to obtain approval and to have the tires from the Gatesville site, and others like it, classified as an alternative fuel source. Prior to this clarification, tires that were considered “discarded” could not be used as tire-derived fuel in cement kilns unless those kilns met additional standards meant for commercial and industrial solid waste incineration units.

This clarification from EPA also brought the potential for further recycling. Even more tires—approximately 4.4 million throughout the state—can potentially be recycled thanks to this action.

"Based on all the hard work the TCEQ and EPA staff put into this issue, we were ecstatic that we reached an agreement that gives these sites a new opportunity to utilize over 4 million additional tires in cement kilns," said Earl Lott, Director of TCEQ’s Waste Permits Division.

Cleanup begins

Scrap tires interfered with natural vegetation, and with their removal, the flora can once again flourish.
Scrap tires interfered with natural vegetation, and with their removal, the flora can once again flourish.

Once EPA clarified the steps necessary to allow discarded scrap tires to be used as non-waste fuel at cement kilns, then came the task of actually getting the tires removed from the site, and sent to kilns in New Braunfels and Midlothian. Tires that could not be recycled were properly disposed of at a landfill in the Dallas-Ft. Worth area.

From 2018 to 2019, GLO continuously worked with TCEQ throughout the cleanup phases to ensure proper remediation of the site. GLO managed the removal, transportation, and disposal of the scrap tires as well as any impacted sediment. TCEQ provided technical review and oversight of the remediation and disposal. Soon, thousands of scrap tires were being removed from the site each day, ultimately resulting in the recycling or disposal of 268,000 tires.

“This combination allowed the TCEQ to focus on the cleanup goal, not on continued investigation and enforcement, by bringing together state and federal agencies to pursue new and less costly scrap tire solutions,” Jablonski said.

Success

In October 2019, TCEQ personnel performed a final closure inspection and determined that the site had, indeed, been properly remediated. Overall, TCEQ investigators conducted a total of 10 site inspections throughout the span of the cleanup to monitor its progress. More than $1.5 million in state funding supported the comprehensive cleanup efforts and improvements to site infrastructure.

Stormwater control materials installed at the Gatesville Scrap Tire site now help to control runoff and erosion.
Stormwater control materials installed at the Gatesville Scrap Tire site now help to control runoff and erosion.

To support future use of the site, five-strand barbed wire fencing and stormwater control devices were installed. Stormwater gabions, also known as rock cages, were installed in the gently sloping, loamy soil at the site to prevent erosion and to slow the flow of stormwater drainage. The completely transformed site was then listed for sale in the Fall of 2019.

“The cooperation and collaboration on this singular goal for the Gatesville site between the TCEQ, GLO, and the U.S. EPA was unprecedented, and would not have been possible without the dogged behind-the-scenes work of the TCEQ Region 9 management team, who passionately committed to help restore a site in a community in their own backyard,” Jablonski said.

“This was a great collaborative effort on all parts to address a historical local problem, which in turn will ultimately help clean up other tire sites throughout the entire state,” Van Soest said. “It really shows what we can do when we all work together for a common goal and the common good.”

See our storyboard of the Gatesville tire siteExit the TCEQ.

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All photos TCEQ.