Idaho's Soda Fire Creates Hazmat Concerns

Sep 2, 2015

The Bureau of Land Management (BLM) says Idaho’s biggest wildfire this year, the nearly 300,000 acre Soda Fire, generated potential hazardous material sites. One is an old mercury processing facility in the Owyhee County desert that was cleaned up four years ago.

Contaminated soil was removed and the entire facility was covered in new dirt and fenced with barbed wire. Three weeks ago, the Soda Fire swept over the area but a BLM spokesperson says the agency isn’t worried about that particular site. M.J. Byrne with the BLM office in Boise says a bigger concern is an illegal dump site.

Tires melted in an arson fire at an Ohio recycling center.

“[It had] 700 tires, several vehicles and other large debris,” Byrne says.  

She says the agency had discovered the site and was hiring a hazmat contractor when the fire started.

“We were in the process of getting it cleaned up,” Byrne says. “We just didn’t get it done in time.”

Burned tires release a variety of hazardous substances. Byrne says the BLM is worried that if it rains, soil and water in the area could be at risk. The BLM has hired an emergency contractor to clean the site immediately, but it could take a few weeks.

Here's what the EPA says about tire fires.

"Tire fires often become major hazardous incidents affecting entire communities—frequently requiring neighborhood evacuations and long, drawn-out fire extinguishing operations. These fires threaten pollution of the air, soil, and water. EPA, states, municipalities, and private companies have spent millions of dollars cleaning up tire fires across the country.

EPA does not consider scrap tires a hazardous waste. However, if a tire fire occurs, tires break down into hazardous compounds including gases, heavy metals, and oil. The average passenger car tire is estimated to produce over two gallons of oil when burned. (Source: Rubber Manufacturers Association, April 2003)

Oil that exudes into ground and surface water as a result of tire fires is a significant environment pollutant. In some cases, this may trigger Superfund cleanup status. For every million tires consumed by fire, about 55,000 gallons of runoff oil can pollute the environment unless contained and collected. This oily material is also highly flammable.

Air pollution is also produced by tire fires. Air emissions may include polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs , benzene, styrene, phenols, and butadiene." - EPA

Find Adam Cotterell on Twitter @cotterelladam

Copyright 2015 Boise State Public Radio