A wrong-track bill that passed the House Wednesday will fill abandoned mines with old waste tires and will risk southern Arizona's public safety and health.
House Bill 2290, sponsored by Rep. Russ Jones, R-Yuma, poses risks of tire fires, where heavy soot and oil is released into the ground, contaminating vital water supplies and creating a public health risk.
Current law already dictates that materials used to seal mines cannot present a danger to Arizona's water standard, and using waste tires could do just that. No other states have laws allowing mines to be filled with tires, and most prohibit doing so.
The bill stipulates that after the mine has been filled with tires, at least 10 feet of earth must cover the tires. But this could possibly contaminate Arizona's already limited water supply. The decomposition of these tires could emit potentially harmful chemicals into the water that is vital to Arizona's residents.
The state mine inspector estimates 100,000 abandoned mines can be found Arizona. For example, Saginaw Hill is a 540-acre abandoned mine site 10 miles south of Tucson. The mine shaft is right next to an elementary school in the Tucson Unified School District and a neighborhood. In 2005, an investigation was launched into that mine because of a health concern for hazardous materials that may have seeped into the groundwater from previous mining efforts. The sulfide mining and smelting that occurred at the Saginaw mining site from the 1800s to the mid-1990s presented a possibility of metal contamination. Inspectors were concerned that high concentrations of base metals used for these mines contaminated the ground water.
If any other discovered mine shafts around this area were to be filled with tires, it could create the risk of contaminating ground water around it just like the metal contamination at Saginaw Hill.
Filling the mine with tires would only undo the work that organizations did to try to prevent a possible health hazard to the public and environment.
Waste tires are also made of flammable materials and present the possibility of fires which pose public safety and air contamination risks. Potential fires from using these waste tires will unnecessarily cost Arizona even more resources to fight them.
Some of the justification behind this bill is that waste tires are a possible option to fill these mines because there is no shortage of them, but tires can be used in much more sustainable ways instead of filling mine shafts and posing public safety and health risks. Waste tires can be recycled and used for other projects such as the paving of roads and other public works projects, erosion control for houses, fencing, bridge supports and landscaping projects.a
We don't allow these tires in our landfills; we shouldn't allow them in our mines.
Laws already are in place that promote the use of other materials like gravel, bricks, dirt, rocks and concrete to fill mine shafts.
Instead of using old waste tires to seal up these abandoned mines and risk public safety and health, we need to be working in a bipartisan way to come up with more eco-friendly solutions to protect our natural resources and our citizens.
Rep. Nancy Young Wright, a Democrat serving in the Arizona Legislature from District 26, is a member of the House Water and Energy Committee.