Burning of tyres as a cheap source of energy is common in many developing countries, such as India. While burning tyres does provide a cheap and efficient source of energy, the harmful effects of such burning far exceed the benefits.
Emissions from open tyre burning include “criteria” pollutants, such as particulates, carbon monoxide (CO), sulfur oxides (SOx), oxides of nitrogen (NOx), and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). They also include “non-criteria” hazardous air pollutants (HAPs), such as polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, dioxins, furans, hydrogen chloride, benzene, polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs); and metals such as cadmium, nickel, zinc, mercury, chromium, and vanadium.
Both criteria and non-criteria pollutants can cause significant short and long term health effects. Depending on the length and degree of exposure, these health effects could include irritation of the skin, eyes, and mucous membranes, respiratory effects, central nervous system depression, and cancer. Dioxin is a highly toxic compound which may cause cancer and neurological damage, and disrupt reproductive systems, thyroid systems, respiratory systems etc.
Uncontrolled tyre burning has been proven to be 16 times more mutagenic, i.e capable of inducing genetic mutation, than traditional residential wood combustion in a fireplace, and 13,000 times more mutagenic than coal-fired utility emissions with good combustion efficiency and add-on controls.
Especially troubling is the exposure that children living within these communities are inadvertently being subjected to. Children, foetuses, nursing babies, elderly, asthmatics, and immune suppressed individuals are all much more vulnerable to the pollutants released burning tyres. Even a nursing woman can transfer the pollutions she inhales to a baby through the fat in her breast milk. During breast-feeding, infants are exposed to higher concentrations of organic pollutants than at any subsequent time in their lives.
Saving money on fuel by burning tyres should not take precedence over public health. Unfortunately, in small villages and other underdeveloped areas where tyre burning kilns sustain much of the local economy, exposure to these toxins is inevitable with the current practices being employed. The need of the hour is to promote sustainable scrap tyre management systems such as pyrolysis and crumb rubber production.