Thursday, November 6, 2014

The Great Tire Fire

'Alert in four neighborhoods for odor from burnt rubber.' (Photo: El Tiempo)
Smoke rises from the tire dump fire in Fontibon.
(Photo: Twitter via Noticias Caracol)
A tire dump has in Fontibon has burnt for the last several days, sending thick smoke into the air and prompting health alerts from authorities.

Which was fair enough. But what about every single other day, when authorities don't issue air health alerts? Does that mean Bogotá's air is breathable?

'What effects do burnt tires have on health?' (Photo: El Tiempo)
Bogotá media, such as El Tiempo, gave the tire fire big coverage.

A sardonic commentary. Photo: Facebook
Smoky haze hides the hills in La Candelaria.
Compared the tire conflagration, Bogotá's 'normal' air pollution is almost healthy...
Smoke rises from a routine fire (burning tires?) behind the La Sabana train station today.
Homeless people hang out behind the Estación de la Sabana on Calle 13, where they burn collected trash to separate out the metals in order to sell them.

On Calle 13 near San Victorino Plaza today TransMilenio buses belch smoke.
The TransMilenio system is the pride of Bogotá - but many of the buses are 'rolling chimneys.'

A masked man walks across Plaza San Victorino.
In the wake of this disaster, authorities will talk about imposing strict regulations on dumps, and then do nothing.

But there's a deeper, more systematic problem here, which Bogotá authorities will be sure to ignore. The city is being inundated by trash, including used tires, which nobody seems to know what to do with. Grind them up to make asphalt? Hang them from trees as playground equipment? After that, you'll still have 99% of them left, accumulating on streets, parks and in dumps, where homeless people ignite them for warmth and they collect water and breed mosquitoes. 

Either society in general can spend a small fortune collecting and burying these tires, thus socializing yet another cost of the auto industry. Or, Colombia could do what many other nations do and tax tire manufacturers and importers and use the tax revenue to dispose of their products.

Update: Several days after the fire, the tires continue smoldering. According to city air measurements, pollution levels hit five times the maximum acceptable levels - and none of the measuring stations were near the fire.

Headed for burning? Discarded tires wait on a sidewalk for someone to collect them.

By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours


Sarak DeMir said...

WE just need to be more creative. Ties could be made into... Sandals/footwear for the homeless. Chipped into playground surfaces (loose not solid surface)... Rammed full of earth and used as walls for buildings... Turned into fuel for cement kilns... and of course used to make remolded tyres

Miguel said...

Hi Sarak,

Thanks for your comment. Yes, you're correct of course. However, if any of those uses were profitable in the most purely economic sense, then they'd happen naturally, the way that aluminum cans get collected and reused. But only a minute fraction of tires get re-used. That's why the government needs to provide subsidies to finance reuse, and those subsidies should come from a tax on the tire industry, not from society in general. Mike