Quebec Pays Cement Kilns to Burn Tires

By Martin Stone

MONTREAL, Quebec, Canada, August 17, 2001 (ENS) - A decision by the province of Quebec to pay two large cement manufacturers to accept scrap tires as fuel for their high temperature kilns has provoked an outcry from environmentalists.

"These cement companies are willing to burn anything that burns in their kilns, and I am not at all convinced they can burn tires cleanly," Sierra environmental scientist and adviser Daniel Green told reporters following a press conference announcing the deal.

Quebec Environment Minister Andre Boisclair says the province signed C$8 million worth of contracts this week with two cement companies near Montreal, Lafarge Canada and St. Lawrence Cement.


Quebec Environment Minister Andre Boisclair (Photo courtesy Office of the Minister)
The contracts commit the companies to accept 7.5 million tires from dump sites over the next three years, at a payment of about C$40 to $50 a metric tonne.

Boisclair said that province hopes to sign an additional C$14 million in contracts next spring in a bid to empty Quebec's tire dump sites by 2008.

Quebec lists 47 officially recognized tire dump sites and Boisclair told reporters that the dumps, containing an estimated 25 million scrap tires, pose serious environmental and health hazards.

The province has been seeking a solution since a major fire in Saint-Amable in 1990 consumed about three million tires and resulted in evacuations and a C$12 million taxpayer cleanup tab.

Among other environmental concerns, the minister noted, old tires often hold stagnant water which allows mosquitoes to breed and raises concern about the spreading of the West Nile Virus and other diseases. "We don't want tire dumps in Quebec," Boisclair declared.

Boisclair called the program "avant-garde" and said it sets a good example to other jurisdictions. The province currently recycles or reuses 83 percent of the more than six million tires discarded annually, he said.

Quebec motorists will foot the bill for tire burning. The province will institute a $3 environmental fee on each new tire. The tax will generate about C$20 million annually with roughly one-third of that tagged for emptying dump sites, the rest being targeted at dealing with the 6.5 million used tires discarded annually in the province.

Seven of Canada's 10 provinces have introduced a similar tax.

Both cement plants have retrofitted their kilns to accommodate scrap tires and have burned them since the mid-1990s. The scrap tire fuel originates not only in Quebec but is imported from elsewhere in Canada and the northeastern U.S.

In neighboring Ontario, environmentalists and government critics have raised concerns over a tire dump near Owen Sound. Water in a trench beneath those used tires has proved to be toxic, raising fears the toxics will persist in groundwater or contaminate an aquifer.

In Brantford, Ontario, a tire dump which caught fire last December still holds more than 5,000 tires and the owner has been charged with failure to comply with provincial environmental laws. Similar situations exist Canadawide.


Tire dumps are an ideal breeding ground for disease-bearing mosquitoes and animals and cause air and water pollution if they catch on fire. (Photo courtesy New York Dept. of Environmental Conservation)
The U.S. Rubber Manufacturers Association claims about 15,000 BTUs of heat can be generated per pound of scrap tire rubber. The average steel belted radial passenger car tire contains 2.5 pounds of steel and is made from the equivalent of seven gallons of oil.

Numbers published by Earth-Link Technology Enterprises Ltd., a Hong Kong based company developing new uses for old tires, indicate that annually, about 250 million tires in the U.S. and about 1,000 million in the world are scrapped.

Currently, less than 18 percent are being recycled as products, 42 percent are being burned for energy, and five percent are being exported to developing countries for reuse.

Cement is made by combining limestone, silica, alumina and iron in rotating cylindrical ovens at temperatures of 1,450 degrees Celsius or higher. Lafarge Canada and St. Lawrence Cement said their plants can use a wide variety of fuels to achieve the necessary high temperatures and presently burn petroleum by-products like pitch and liquid coke, waste oil, discarded railway ties and retired utility poles.

The companies gain an added advantage in burning tires because the steel belts in the residue can be used to replace some of the iron required in cement production, acquiring a raw material at no cost. But, the firms say they have had to invest in refitting the kilns to accept tires as fuel and that they are helping resolve a major environmental concern.

Pierre Beaulieu, environment and energy manager at St. Lawrence Cement told the "Montreal Gazette" newspaper that tire burning does not produce more pollutants than other fuels and for some pollutants, such as sulphur dioxide, tires produce less.

Environment Minister Boisclair asserted that tires are burned at such high temperatures that there are virtually no emissions.

Officials from both companies declared that their emissions are well below provincial and federal norms. The province does not plan any additional stack monitoring connected to the tire burning, saying the current annual testing is adequate.

Polluters must report on their toxic output each year to the Canadian National Pollution Release Inventory (NPRI). Lafarge's plant reported producing in 1999 more than 11 tonnes of chromium, a substance some studies have linked to cancer.

St. Lawrence Cement did not report to the NPRI. Neither plant officials nor NPRI authorities could explain why the company failed to report.

Green and other environmentalists have called for a full, independent, environmental audit on what cement plants emit when burning tires and other fuels.

Green suggests that tire manufacturers be made responsible for recycling or otherwise safely disposing of scrap tires, encouraging them to develop a more environmentally friendly product.