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Illegal dumping could come back to bite

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A new survey of illegal dumpsites conducted this month by Mercyhurst University public health students found that among the eight illegal dumpsites identified in Erie in 2004 by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful, six remain active 10 years later. Further, several of these sites have grown in size, primarily due to increases in the number of discarded tires.  

The students, enrolled in the environmental health course taught by Thomas Cook, Ph.D.,canvassed local neighborhoods and parks to document the extent of illegal dumping on public lands, including the eight known sites previously documented by Keep Pennsylvania Beautiful. Their work is part of Mercyhurst’s ongoing commitment to hands-on learning and to service.

Besides surveying the sites, the students volunteered to help dispose of used tires and electronics, or “e-waste,” as part of the City of Erie’s Tire and Electronics Recycling Day held earlier this month. Students collected 225 tires (over 3 tons) found at illegal dumpsites. These, along with thousands of tires brought by local residents, were loaded onto semi-trucks to be properly recycled.

Of the effort Mercyhurst student Will DeFeo said, “Everyone seemed really satisfied to take part and help improve the overall health of the community. Even community members who could not participate expressed gratitude for our help.”

Professor Cook noted that the illegally dumped tires pose situational dangers to those who utilize the land and to the greater Erie community because tires act as a breeding ground for mosquitos that can harbor infectious disease.

“Several container-breeding mosquito species are highly capable vectors for viruses like West Nile Virus” said Cook. “Many species have adapted well to urban environments, and even show a preference for tires over natural breeding sites.”

The prevalence of tires at illegal dumpsites in Erie may allow mosquitos to extend their breeding area and length of season, all of which increases the possibility of an outbreak of West Nile Virus.

“It’s not a question of whether or not some people will become infected with these viruses, as many encephalitis viruses are now endemic here or in nearby areas and many who are infected will develop mild or no symptoms,” Cook said. “It’s more about how many cases of life-threatening encephalitis can be prevented over the coming years through basic preventative measures.”

Electronics, Cook said, are also a growing problem at several of the sites. They are classified as household hazardous waste because contents may include lead, mercury, arsenic and other environmental contaminants.

While the Mercyhurst students, volunteers and Erie community residents may have helped to decrease the chances of transmission of vector-borne diseases this coming summer, only a consistent community-wide effort to dispose of and store materials properly can prevent an eventual outbreak.

Residents of Millcreek and Fairview Township can take advantage of a tire collection event at the Millfair Compost and Recycling Center, 2301 Millfair Rd., on Saturday, May 17, from 9 a.m. to noon, and in Summit Township, 8900 Old French Road, May 15-17; Thursday and Friday hours are 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Additional events and locations can be found here.


PHOTO: Erie Clean-up Day participants, l-r, Betty Boyd, James Gibson, Emily Francis, Jessica Braymiller, Jordan Ruggiero, Matt Vendeville and Stephanie Hanley.