Kuwait's fire service teams put out a huge blaze at a scrap tire graveyard in the northwestern Jahra Governorate last week. Image Credit: Supplied

Kuwait City: On Wednesday, the Kuwait Municipality visited Al Sulabiya tire site after a huge fire blaze was set off last Thursday.

An estimated one million tires were said to have been burned, as the fire blazed through 25,000 of the site’s million square meters, according to KUNA.

The aim of the visit was to reevaluate the current situation of the tire site, otherwise known as the tire graveyard. In addition, questions arose during the visit as to why there has been no development on the front to construct three factories that would recycle tires, as well reduce the number of tires in the site.

Last year, the Public Authority for Industry transferred the responsibility to the Environment Protection Agency (EPA), who were tasked to find a solution to the tire graves. After taking over, the Director General of the EPA pointed out that there are around 20 to 40 million tires, in Al Sulabiya, and that, “we will be able to deal with them all within a period of not more than a year.”

Threat of tire graveyards

Al Sulabiya tire site is one of the largest tire graveyards in the world and is clearly visible on satellite images. Old or unusable tires are usually taken to Al Sulabiya and thrown into large holes, which with time become mountains of tires.

The main threat of having such a large tire site is the possibility of hazardous fires breaking out.

“Tires are notoriously difficult to ignite, they have to heat up to a very high temperature ~400 C to catch on fire and once they do it is very difficult to control. Most tire fires around the world are a result of arson or lightning,” Asseel Al-Ragam, Associate Professor of Architecture and the Vice Dean of Academic Affairs, Research and Graduate Studies at the College of Architecture at Kuwait University, told Gulf News.

The most notorious tire fire happened back in 2012, which led to over five million tires being burned. The incident was considered an ‘environmental catastrophe’ as the smoke of the fires were visible from space.

The one million square meter site is so vast that it is visible from space. Image Credit: Supplied

Fires like the ones that broke out last week and in 2012, have a serious effect on the environment, as well as the overall health of a population.

When tires are burned they release heavy metals and oil, which with time seep into the ground and water, therefore resulting in land and water pollution.

According to the EPA of the United States, it is estimated that an average passenger car tire produces over two gallons of oil when it is burned. Therefore, during the 2012 Sulaibiya incident, it is likely that 10 million gallons of runoff oil were released and if not contained and collected properly would have seeped into the ground and polluted the land around the site.

Given the tire graveyard’s proximate location to residential neighborhoods in Jahra, the site poses a severe hazard to people’s health. When tires are burned they release toxic chemicals, like carbon monoxide and sulfur oxides, which have short term and chronic health impacts, from respiratory illnesses to anxiety and cancer.

Although the tire fires cause serious damages, Al-Ragam added that, “tire dump sites are also breeding grounds for mosquitos and other organisms that could potentially carry deadly viruses.”

Solution? Recycling

Instead of burning tires, many have pointed out that recycling tires can have an economical and environmental benefit. Tires can be recycled into sub-layers for roads, playground flooring and fuel for the cement industry.

“Establishing several tire recycling plants coupled with stringent environmental policies that curb wasteful and dangerous dump sites such as the one in Sulaibiya are the only real solutions to the current environmental catastrophe,” Al-Ragam said.

A report published in 2016 on ‘Integrated Solid Waste Management System’, pointed out that 76.2 per cent of Kuwait’s waste could be recycled, of that total amount 95 per cent are tires and organic waste.

Currently, there are a couple of companies in Kuwait that recycle tires, but “a proactive solution would be multidimensional and would take a top down and bottom up approach,” Al-Ragam said.

Al-Ragam added, “tire recycling plants are only a small part of the solution without effective policies that hold the auto industry and its services accountable the problem will continue.”

The abundance of cars and over dependence on cars has led to a surplus in tires, as they are one of the main parts of a car.

“Our dependence on cars and our insatiable commodity culture tied to our over consumption of cars is a big part of the problem. Each household has more than four cars. We are a car dependent society and cars mean more tires,” Al-Ragam pointed out.