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Why Texas Looks At Illegal Tire Dumping As A Larger Health Threat

Texas has a tire problem that’s linked to a mosquito problem. State lawmakers heard testimony in support of expanding criminal penalties to discourage the illegal disposal of old tires.

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Black and White photograph of abandoned tires. Image credit: flickr/Maggie’s Camera

 

You see them dumped illegally along backroads and backstreets: old tires.

“Illegal tire disposal has been a rampant problem in Texas for many years,” said Rep. Richard Raymond, a Democrat from Laredo.

Raymond told a legislative committee in Austin that the problem is far worse than just an eyesore: “Too many people have died and we could have prevented that.”

Old tires don’t kill people, but when left to collect rainwater, they are ideally suited for breeding a particular mosquito that can transmit deadly viruses to humans. It was a discovery made in Houston.

“In 1985 Houston was the site that discovered the major breeding source of the mosquito was the used tire. And they tracked it to imported used tires,” said Dr. Hector Gonzalez, director of the Laredo Health Department. He gave testimony to the House Committee on Environmental Regulation.

Health officials had found that old tires imported to Houston from Japan to be recycled contained the Asian tiger mosquito which then spread quickly across the South.

Earlier this month, the Texas Senate passed a bill to make it a criminal offense if a tire retailer fails to make sure old tires are disposed legally. The bill is now under consideration in the House.

Health officials told committee members that with Texans now going through some 25 million tires a year, making sure they’re not dumped illegally is significant health issue.

In 2012, the state of Texas went through the worst West Nile virus outbreak with 89 deaths,” testified Dr. Gonzalez. “And now a new virus that threatens the shores of the United States and already confirmed in Texas, chikungunya virus spread the mosquito.”

Last summer, the chikungunya virus was found for the first time in the United States in a mosquito in Houston. Officials were uncertain whether the mosquito arrived in a foreign cargo shipment or if it acquired the virus by biting an already-infected person in the Houston area.

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Dave Fehling

Director of News and Public Affairs

As Director of News and Public Affairs, Dave Fehling manages the radio news operation at Houston's NPR station. Previously, he was a reporter at the station, covering the oil & gas industry and its impact on the environment. He won top state honors for in-depth and investigative reporting as well...

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