Approaching aircraft have complained to the Cape Metropolitan Council (CMC) that they sometimes have to use automatic landing instruments to navigate through the thick black smoke from burning tyres in Cape Town’€™s townships.

Despite being a major health hazard, and illegal in terms of air pollution legislation, the practice of burning tyres is widespread in the Cape Metropole, particularly in Guguletu, Philippi and Crossroads.

Truckloads of tyres are regularly dumped on roadsides and informal dumping grounds in residential areas rather than being transported to authorised hazardous waste disposal sites. They are then burnt by locals for the two kilos of wire inside each tyre that can be sold as scrap for about forty cents.

Usually, piles of tyres are set alight at night and left to burn until morning when the wire is collected. But a walkabout through Philippi organised by the CMC on a sunny Wednesday morning went past the suffocating smoke of tyres burning next to a doctor’€™s surgery and down the road from the local fire station.

“It happens so often here, no-one bothers contacting the fire department, says Theo Botha, Assistant Divisional Officer of the Mitchells Plein Fire and Emergency Services. “Sometimes we put the fire out and they just set it alight again.”

Tyres are burnt daily on the empty plot just opposite the local metal scrapyard where the wire can then be sold, says Mfundo Ngcaphe from the Philippi Youth Environmental Forum.

“Research shows that 90 percent of tyres are dumped and burnt in the townships. Only 10 percent get to the depots,” says Angela Andrews, an attorney from the Legal Resources Centre who has been researching the legal obligations of government to prevent the health impacts of tyre burning.

The smoke which a burning tyre emits is tens of thousands of times more toxic than the gasses emitted when you burn coal. These toxins have been associated with miscarriages, cancers and birth defects. They cause eczema, respiratory problems and allergies, says Andrews.

The National Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism is currently exploring a national tyre recycling strategy. This will involve the introduction of a purchase levy on tyres to fund the safe disposal and recycling of tyres.

“Tyres can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used as fuel in cement manufacturing and they can be used as a component in road making,” says Willem Scott, Director for Integrated Pollution Prevention and Waste management, Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism.

Mechanisms to implement this recycling strategy, says Scott, are currently being researched. In the meantime, the CMC has been implementing short-term measures to prevent tyre-burning.

According to Hans Linde, Manager of the Air Pollution Control branch of the CMC, all tyre dealers in the Western Cape have been asked to ensure that tyres are delivered to authorised refuse dumps, where it costs R29 per ton to dump hazadous waste.

“The result has been an encouraging increase in the amount of tyres getting to official dump sites,” says Linde.

Heath-e news service