Toxins fill air in Weld County as tires burn

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WELD COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — A fire at 12311 County Road 41 in rural Weld County was extinguished Thursday evening, according to local fire officials. The blaze kept firefighters busy for more than 24 hours near the intersection of County Roads 26 and 41.

Records show that Tires to Green Recycling, LLC operates at the address along with a business called CH2E. When FOX31 inquired about the recycling facility with Weld County’s health department, the county referred to the location as Tires to Green Recycling, LLC while also providing documentation that the facility in question is CH2E.

The Weld County Sheriff’s Office closed roads miles away from the fire while crews continued fighting it. The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) said harmful levels of benzene were being monitored within 10 to 20 yards of the fire.

“Tire fire smoke appears to be the bread winner in being the most potentially harmful to living organisms,” said Colorado State University associate professor of mechanical engineering John Volckens, Ph.D.

Volckens said studies show tire fire smoke to be one of the most toxic forms of smoke.

“In that smoke are particles of unburied compounds that have known toxic properties,” he said. “What I mean by that is they’re carcinogenic.”

While cancer is a concern for long-term exposure, the main worry for short-term exposure is irritation to eyes and lungs.

“The unique composition of rubber burns in a way that creates a lot of toxic byproducts, so it doesn’t burn cleanly,” Volckens said.

Just because people can’t smell the smoke doesn’t mean they’re free and clear, he said. People in the area are encouraged to stay inside with windows closed. Air filtration and indoor circulating air conditioning systems can help keep toxins out of homes.

State inspectors will be at the site on Friday, according to CDPHE.

This is not the first fire at the facility. A fire raged at the location in the 1980s. 

CDPHE says the facility has had enforcement issues in the past, but those issues have been addressed. FOX31 has requested documentation on previous state enforcement measures.

The public health department in Weld County says the facility is currently in good standing with the county based on the most recent inspection report showing general compliance. FOX31 has requested that report.

The Platteville-Gilcrest Fire Protection District confirmed to FOX31 on Friday that the responsible party of the fire is CH2E. The agency’s chief said Tires to Green, LLC has a building on the same property as CH2E and explained the two businesses are connected in the process of recycling tires.

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