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Tires, trash breed disease, mar view

| Sunday, Sept. 16, 2007

Clinton Township's seasonal spectacle isn't exactly the Northern Lights.

In the summer, drivers on Christy Road can catch a glimpse of some discarded tires through the trees. When the leaves have fallen, though, most of the estimated 500 tires are visible.

Estimated to weigh 10 tons, they compose the second-largest illegal dump site in Butler County, according to a March survey of the county. That survey turned up at least 48 other illegal dump sites in the southeastern corner of the county.

The survey was conducted by PA CleanWays, an environmental advocacy nonprofit that receives funding from the state Department of Environmental Protection.

It cites disease-carrying insects and rodents, as well as chemical leaks into the soil and water, as the primary threats posed by junk.

PA CleanWays estimated it would cost between $600 and $1,000 per ton for removal and cleanup.

Dumps tend to collect standing water in which mosquitos breed. That's a concern primarily for their role in spreading the West Nile virus. The virus causes serious illness in about 1 percent of people infected and flu-like symptoms in others.

Guillermo Cole, spokesman for the Allegheny County Health Department, said mosquitos are a threat from May until October and they could fly several miles from where they hatch.

Spraying has taken place in Allegheny, Armstrong and Westmoreland counties to kill mosquitos after some were found to carry the virus.

PA CleanWays found 16 illegal dumps in Clinton Township, easily leading the other Valley-area Butler County municipalities and far outdistancing any in Allegheny County. Buffalo Township had 11 dumps, Jefferson had nine, Penn had seven and Winfield had five.

Saxonburg had no dump sites, according to the survey, but 11 sites in Clinton and Jefferson were slightly west of the borough limits.

Saxonburg and Jefferson are the only local municipalities in Butler County with curbside garbage pickup.

Making progress

The Butler survey, completed in March. involved looking for sites visible from roads and fielding complaints submitted on the organization's Web site. The report listed limitations in areas with high vegetative growth, which limited visibility, and private property, which surveyors could not access.

"These aren't comprehensive surveys," said PA CleanWays program manager Todd Crouch. "We know there are more out there, and that makes our findings thus far pretty scary."

A March 2005 Allegheny County survey found five dump sites in Plum and several municipalities with one each. Those are West Deer, East Deer, O'Hara, Indiana Township, Oakmont/Verona and Springdale.

Crouch said a Westmoreland County survey is due in 2008 and an Armstrong County survey was not yet scheduled for release. He said the group aims to have every county in the state surveyed by 2012.

Clinton Supervisor Chairman Don Christy said he figured the township had three illegal dumps, compared with the 16 in the report. The problem years ago, he said, were tires -- and the brazen ways people would dump them.

"People used to dump them right in the middle of the road," he said. "We'd have to clean them up every day. It's gotten better."

Christy credits the annual community cleanup in May, which brings in between 300 and 400 tires, with reducing widespread dumping.

Health concerns

The land with 500 tires along Christy Road was formerly owned by Don Christy's grandfather. Christy does not live there, but said he was aware of the site.

"It's been there for years," he said. "My family sold that part of the property, so I haven't been on it in a while, but I don't see how there are possibly 500 tires there."

Property owners near the tires did not respond to requests for comment.

Regardless of whether the dump sites are growing, there is still a lot of material out there, and that poses a public health threat, according to the Allegheny County Health Department.

"We will obviously try to get that cleaned up," Cole said, referring to any dump site reported to the health department. "We'll order the owner to remove all junk and debris or we will cite them -- we have the regulatory authority to do that."

Among eight other sites, the 2005 Allegheny County report listed a 6-ton dump site at the end of Butler Street in Springdale, which included trash in the Allegheny River, 30 tires, construction material and a couch.

A visit to the site on Sept. 4 yielded a folded spring from a mattress and the metal frame of a couch. Both lay near two burning pieces of foam. It appeared as though the couch on the report had been burned that morning. Aside from that, all that remained were garbage bags here and there, with loose garbage in the water.

"What makes these reports unwieldy is that some of these dump sites are getting cleaned up, and we're not aware of it," Crouch said.

"But we're also only reporting on what is visible from the public right of way, so they are incomplete, at best.

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