Tire pile causes West Nile fears among residents

October 19, 2003|by RICHARD F. BELISLE

CHAMBERSBURG, Pa. - Kristen E. Bardell, West Nile virus coordinator for the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, told about 50 residents of Greene and Hamilton townships last week that they could stick a pin anywhere on a Pennsylvania map and find mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus.

Bardell's statement did little to ease the concerns of the residents, many of whom worry a pile of 400,000 old tires in their neighborhood is a breeding ground for mosquitoes.

One resident, who since has recovered, was diagnosed with the disease, they said.

The tires have been on Myron Young's property on Letterkenny Road near the border of the two townships since the 1970s, said Randy Negley, a Hamilton Township supervisor.


West Nile, which is carried by some mosquito species, first was found in Pennsylvania in 2000.

According to Jessica Seider, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health in Harrisburg, Pa., 185 cases of the virus in humans have been confirmed so far this year, with six Pennsylvanians dying from the disease.

So far in 2003, five human cases have been confirmed in Franklin County and none in Fulton County, Seider said.

In 2002, 62 human cases were reported in Pennsylvania, with nine deaths confirmed, Seider said.

She said a dozen horses have been affected in Franklin County and 15 birds were found with the disease this year. Mosquito samples taken in both counties have tested positive, she said.

The mosquito season is beginning to wind down this year as cold weather arrives.

Negley said Young began to bring tires onto his property with plans to open a recycling business, but it never worked out.

State and local officials have been working with Young to get rid of the tires, but progress has been slow, according to some of the residents at Thursday's meeting in the Franklin Fire Hall in Chambersburg.

In addition to the mosquito problem, the residents said they fear the tires could catch fire. Negley said fire roads have been built between the piles of tires as a precaution.

Mike Kessinger, chairman of the Hamilton Township Supervisors, told the residents local officials are trying to resolve the situation. David Jamison, a Greene Township supervisor, also was present.

Leon Souders of Greene Township said residents complained two years ago about the tires, the potential for fire and the possibility of West Nile.

"Very little was done in two years and now, it's gotten worse," he said. "We've had a neighbor diagnosed with West Nile, the mosquitoes are terrible, people are afraid to go out in their back yards and our neighborhood has become a ghost town in the evenings."

Don Hagerich, a solid waste inspector for the DEP who inspects mosquito sites, said Young signed a consent order Feb. 28 to remove 3,000 tires every three months.

Young also bought equipment to cut tires in half. He sends about 10,000 cut tires a year to the IESI Blue Ridge Landfill in Greene Township for use as a porous layer in the landfill, Hagerich said.

He said Young has been in compliance with the DEP's orders. Young also pays to have the tire pile sprayed against mosquitoes on a regular basis according to DEP dictates, Hagerich said.

"We're moving forward at a slow progress," he said.

Hagerich said at the current rate of removal, it could take 20 years or more for all of the tires to be moved off Young's property.

He said Pennsylvanians generate more than 15 million used tires every year. "There's no good technology yet to get rid of such a large amount," he said.

"Compliance is not enough," Souders said. "We need results. Our community depends on it. We're going to pull our resources together and form a community nonprofit group. We're not going away."

DEP officials said the tire pile poses no more danger than any place where mosquitoes breed.

"You can't pinpoint the tire pile" as the cause, said Kimberly A. Morewood, local government liaison for the DEP's 15-county South Central Pennsylvania region. "The state is doing all that can be done. I understand it's not as much as you'd like."

Thomas Linzey, staff attorney with the Community Environmental Legal Defense fund in Chambersburg, called the tires "an imminent public hazard." He said it was the "most mismanaged case" he'd seen.

The supervisors have no ordinance to protect the residents and all the DEP does is lecture about it, but doesn't fix the problem. "The state is paid to deal with these issues," he said.

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