Saturday, March 16, 1996 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Fire Breaks Out, Oil Oozes From Tire Chips Used In 2Nd State Road


A roadbed made of recycled tire chips is smoldering near the coastal community of Ilwaco, oozing oily goo onto the mud flats near Baker Bay at the mouth of the Columbia River.

Last month, a county road employing the same new technology began emitting smoke and even flames in Garfield County, in Washington's southeast corner. It was still burning yesterday, according to the county Sheriff's Department.

Portions of both roads were closed yesterday while experts scrambled to determine why the material catches fire - despite the lack of oxygen and often after heavy rain or flooding - and how to deal with the problem.

"It would take a lot of convincing to get us to use this material again," said state Transportation Department spokesman Rick Olson in Olympia.

Prior to the Washington state problems, "there's never been a tire-fire under a road," said Joe Zellibor of Washington, D.C., a former science adviser to the Scrap-Tire Management Council in the Rubber Manufacturers Association. "There's no history of methods to use."

The state is seeking federal money to deal with the smoldering tire chips, whose use was encouraged by the Federal Highway Administration.

"We issued a moratorium on use of these materials for roadbeds in January," Olson said.

The tire chips have been used for patching two state roads - Washington 100 just southwest of Ilwaco and Washington 101 near Cosmopolis, about 40 miles north near Aberdeen.

No problems have been reported with the repairs near Cosmopolis, Olson said.

The Ilwaco project, a repair of a washout on the three-mile loop road to Fort Canby State Park, was completed in October. Cracks, odor and steam were reported in December.

Olson said he did not know how many repairs had been made on county roads using the material. The state Department of Ecology provided the chips for the Garfield County repair but was not involved in any other county projects, spokesman Ron Langley said.

At the site outside Ilwaco, a Coast Guard task force was helping clean up about 300 gallons of oil gunk that had oozed down a hillside from the section repaired in October.

The tire chips, placed on a bed of rock and then capped with 4 or 5 feet of soil, apparently spontaneously combusted, said Coast Guard Lt. Mike Stone.

Liquefied oily waste is being generated at a peak rate of 30 to 40 gallons an hour, depending on the rate of burning, Olson said. The flow sometimes slows to a rate of one gallon per hour, he said.

Zellibor said the oily ooze is produced as the tire chips break down. Each tire contains about a gallon of oil.

The focus yesterday was on keeping the material out of the bay, 50 to 100 feet away, Stone said. Smith Environmental Services has been hired to clean up the mess, he said.

Copyright (c) 1996 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.


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