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IEPA in Metro East to clean up tire dumps

(Rachel Lippmann/St. Louis Public Radio)
The contractors which will haul away these old tires from a city-owned lot in East St. Louis to be reused are funded with a fee that customers pay on new tires.

A yearly effort by the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency to clean up discarded tires is underway in the Metro East.

Front loaders were hard at work at a city-owned lot in East St. Louis Wednesday afternoon dropping tires into tractor trailers. The contractors, which will haul away the old tires to be reused, are funded with a fee that customers pay on new tires.

The lot in East St. Louis is one of two locations in the Metro East that the IEPA will clean up. Another is in the nearby village of Washington Park, and there are two in the south suburbs of Chicago.

The 10,000 or so tires at the East St. Louis lot are prime breeding grounds for mosquitoes and the West Nile virus, says IEPA's used tire program manager Todd Marvel. But he said the lot also illustrates a larger problem

The contractors are supposed to haul tires that the municipality has collected and brought to a central location. Marvel said the department suspects that wasn't the case in East St. Louis.

"Probably two-thirds of the tires here are truck tires," he said." It's very unusual that we see this many truck tires collected by a local unit of government, which leads us to believe that there very well may be some local retailers dumping their tires here because the site is unsecured."

Police chief Lenzie Stewart said the city would like to install cameras at the lot to catch illegal dumpers, but many not be able to afford the technology.

The funds available for the clean-ups are dwindling, as a cash-strapped state of Illinois continues to pull money from every available source. The agency used to schedule cleanups around the state as often as needed. This year, there are only four sites,  and the current push is probably the only one, which worries Stewart.

"Once you clean up the area and two, three weeks later you start seeing tires, that's frustrating," he said. we would like to pursue it and keep these things out of our community because of the disease that they bring, and it's unsightly."

Stewart and the IEPA are backing legislation that would make the open dumping of more than 50 tires a felony. It passed the Illinois House, but has yet to receive a committee assignment in the state Senate.

Rachel is the justice correspondent at St. Louis Public Radio.

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