ANNAPOLIS -- The state will spend about $5 million this year to clean up dumps filled with more than a million old tires under a program funded by a $1 per tire tax.
The tire tax has also been used to find ways to recycle the 4.4 million worn-out tires taken off Maryland cars each year -- from burning them as fuel to growing strawberries in them.
Since passage of the 1991 tire tax, the state has made tire dump owners dispose of the tires.
"We're very enthusiastic about the progress," said Lori Scozzafava, chief of the Department of Environment's recycling division.
But when those responsible are bankrupt, the state pays for cleanup at about $4.40 per tire. So far, that has involved seven sites in rural areas across Maryland.
Some sites had up to a million tires. The dumps present a high risk of fire, releasing toxic smoke and oils, Ms. Scozzafava said.
In Charles County, 350,000 tires sit hidden in a woods. The dump holds 116 tires for each of the 3,000 people living around nearby Hughesville -- a town "you could blink and miss," said Andrew Martin, county planner.
The tires were accumulated by a company that went bankrupt with the failure of plans to use the tires for fuel.
"As with a lot of dumps, there was good money to be made in just accepting them under the guise of recycling and never doing anything with them," said Dennis Fleming, chief of solid waste for Charles County. Taxpayers were left with the cleanup tab -- $1.2 million.
Since Maryland needs to do something with these tires and the millions more accumulated annually, the state is pushing recycling.
Tires are found underfoot at Baltimore-Washington International Airport, in the "gray fluff mats in the entrance foyers," said Susan Schrauth, who runs scrap tire management for Maryland Environmental Service.
Tires are found under tires, chipped and mixed into road asphalt.
Tires are found under kids falling off bars in playgrounds. Shredded tires make the cushioning tiles.
Tires will soon be under rugby players knocked down at University of Maryland at College Park. Shredded tires will be mixed with soil under the field's turf to decrease injuries.
ESSROC Materials near Frederick burns whole tires to fuel its cement kilns, Ms. Schrauth said. A second cement kiln near Hagerstown will soon burn tires. The two kilns together will consume 3 million to 4 million a year, Ms. Schrauth said.
Gardeners have long planted in tires to warm the soil quickly in spring.
Hagerstown inventor Denzil Poling stacked seven to make a planting tower 4 to 6 feet high that catches water in the winter to self-water in the summer. Mr. Poling's yield is triple normal.