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We didn't start the fire, but neither did the city

BY DI EDITORIAL BOARD | JUNE 07, 2012 6:30 AM

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The Landfill fire is not a problem to be ignored. It is dangerous and expensive and is causing a reasonable amount of concern in the Iowa City area.

By now, many are already aware that the reason this fire has been so difficult to stop is that there is a shredded tire lining around the inside of the 7.5 acre Landfill cell. And as anyone who has ever lit a tire on fire knows, once tires catch fire, they can just burn and burn.

It would be easy to immediately point fingers at the city for poor planning, but the true guilty party is whoever threw away ashes or coals straight off the grill. The city planners who developed the Landfill used the best technology and resources they could, and it is up to us to put out the small fires before they cause the big ones.

The most likely cause of this fire was that someone threw away something too hot, or something that could easily spark. Iowa City residents need to be more conscientious of what they are throwing away to prevent another landfill fire.

The Iowa City Landfill caught fire May 26, and is still smoldering today. Although the city has begun a more active approach to subduing and smothering the flames, the estimated damages range from $4 million to $6 million of taxpayers' money.

Another unfortunate aspect of this fire is that it happened in a container that was only completed in 2011, which cost the city $7.8 million to build. The container was built with the intention of serving the community for 15 or more years.

As frustrating as it is to imagine this fire was probably preventable, we also have to accept that the city planned this Landfill well.

The container is lined with shredded tires to help dispose of leachate, a hazardous substance that builds up in landfills. Leachate is a substance regulated by the EPA and must be filtered into pipes to be properly disposed and thereby decrease exposure to people and the environment. It's basically the disgusting black mush that if not filtered from a landfill and treated in the sewage systems could potentially poison the groundwater and have lasting environmental and negative health effects.

Shredded-tires have been used in landfills throughout the United States for around 15 years and require extremely high temperatures to ignite. It was resourcefulness that led our city planners to use old tires as the Landfill lining because it is very difficult to dispose of tires any other way, and in this capacity, they provide a great service. Tires prove an excellent filtration method for leachate, which is why they were selected in the first place.

Sure, there are alternatives to tires that are good filters for removing leachate, such as rock or sand, but then we still have the problem of wasted tires.

The landfill fire is dreadful, and we certainly do not want one to happen again. However, before we go cursing all the tire-shred lining, vowing to never use it again, and demanding someone's head on a platter, let's recall that landfill fires are extremely uncommon, and even more uncommon are ones as damaging as ours.

Only 6 percent of all landfill fires were ones that caused damage "where material burning has value," according to the U.S. Fire Administration in 2002. Not to mention that landfill fires only made up one half of 1 percent of all reported fires in the United States that year. From the statistics available, these fires are rare, and shredded tires are the most successful at long-term leachate removal.

If we really want to avoid more catastrophic fires, before blaming it on the Landfill or on the people who manage the Landfill, look at the things you're throwing away and be aware of your effect on the community.


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