Dumping old tires into marine waters to create habitat was a popular idea before the 1980s. Like other coastal areas around the country, Washington waters have had their fair share of these tire bundles.
The well-intentioned placement of tire debris turned out to have unintended consequences. The tire packs broke underwater and scattered on the seabed, releasing pollutants that we now know are harmful to fish and other aquatic life.
Tire debris has gained a new level of attention in a recent study by the University of Washington Tacoma, University of Washington (Seattle), and Washington State University Puyallup. Scientists have found that a substance called 6PPD-quinone, which is derived from a preservative used to keep tires from breaking down too quickly, is highly toxic to endangered coho salmon and several other species of fish.
There are approximately 30 known locations where tires have been dumped in Puget Sound. While a report summarizing the tire pile investigations is still ongoing, early estimates suggest there are hundreds of thousands of tires in the Sound – a number that could increase as we and our partners inventory all sites.
Removing the tires will take years
Removing submerged tires is a complex, long-term problem. They must first be localized so that we can determine the extent of the problem at each site. It will take several years to complete the tire removal work, which includes obtaining funds for the project, identifying their locations, arranging access to the site, coordinating staff and equipment and transportation of tires to a disposal facility. Ecology is working in partnership with the Departments of Natural Resources (MNR) and Fish and Wildlife on this long-term tire removal project.
But it is not necessary to wait until the plan is ready to tackle certain parts of the problem. We have awarded public participation grants to two nonprofit organizations working on tire removal efforts, Twin Harbors Waterkeeper and Washington Scuba Alliance.
Guardian of the Waters of Twin Harbors
Twin Harbors Waterkeeper (THW) received a grant in 2019 to advocate for waste remediation in and around Grays Harbor. THW monitored beaches for litter, which led to the discovery of waste tires on the tides at Bottle Beach State Park, a critical feeding area for more than one million migratory birds each spring. Local residents had placed more than 350 large tires of equipment to protect the shoreline from erosion, but the tires ended up narrowing the beach, harming forage fish the birds feed on.
THW reported the tires to the DNR via the My Coast tool. In May 2022, the DNR contracted the Washington Conservation Corps (WCC) — an AmeriCorps program run by Ecology that provides hands-on experience, field skills, and training to young adults and military veterans — for the job. backbreaking to dig out 200,000 pounds of tires, clean off the mud and haul them up the highway to transport them to a facility where they will be burned for fuel. Our waste tire collection account can pay the disposal costs.
Video credit: Washington Department of Natural Resources
This project highlights how a public participation grant can spark connections and partnerships with enormous environmental benefits.
Washington Diving Alliance
In 2021, the Washington Scuba Alliance (WSA) received funding to locate and generate an inventory of 20 tire reef sites located on the bottom of Puget Sound. The organization’s volunteers combine their expertise aboard the R/V research vessel Phoenix to locate, scan and quantify nearly half a million used tires.
The WSA is uniquely positioned to carry out this work due to its expertise both on and in the water, as well as the organization’s relationships with local divers who collect first-hand accounts of underwater locations. tires. Using side-scan sonar survey technology, a remotely operated underwater vehicle and scuba divers, WSA aims to have a full interactive map of all 20 sites by June 2023. This data will inform the broader effort underway at DNR to locate and remove all tire in Puget Sound.
WSA volunteers are also raising awareness of the threats posed by tires by sharing this project in classrooms, at community fairs and with the media. Increasing public awareness and understanding of waste issues is a cornerstone of the public participation grants program.
How you can help
Twin Harbors Waterkeeper and Washington Scuba Alliance welcome volunteers. You can also help by properly disposing of old tires. Find a tire recycling center near you at Washington Recycles.