When a fire broke out at the Iowa City municipal landfill in 2012, researchers at the University of Iowa, including associate professor of occupational and environmental health Dr. Tom Peters were on-hand to monitor emissions and assess the danger to the public. The fire was unusual in that the ignition involved the landfill’s lining system, a three-foot layer of shredded tires designed to protect underlying soils and water.
[Photo: An aerial view of the 2012 Iowa City landfill fire, with smoke primarily from the burning shredded tire drainage layer]
UI researchers monitored emissions from the fire at two stationary sites located 6.5 miles east and 2.5 miles northeast of the landfill. A mobile sampling trailer was also moved as needed to capture the tire fire smoke. The investigators created models of how pollutants were likely to disperse and affect local air quality, and made measurements available to the incident command group so they could advise the public on necessary safety precautions.
The UI team took the opportunity to determine potential improvements to the air quality response in terms of how to monitor such fires. They developed a unique tire fire irritant air quality index to interpret the measured pollutants and rank them by acute and cancer hazard ratios. These measures help responders determine when they should take precautions, such as closing schools and canceling outdoor events.
Researchers concluded that the landfill fire constituted a serious public health concern. They offered recommendations for future emergency air quality responses, including better preparation, monitoring, modeling, and interpretation of results. The team’s findings were published in the journal Atmospheric Environment.