When the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) met on Tuesday January 6, 2004, it only took them about fifteen minutes to vote down the proposal from United Purifying Technologies (UPT). After four people from SouthWest Neighbors Protecting Our Environment (SWNPOE) testified briefly, and two SWACO board members spoke against it, the board defeated a resolution to offer a lease to UPT. This ended the possibility that the Trash Burning Power Plant property on Jackson Pike would be used as a tire pyrolysis facility.

The citizens of southwest Columbus got up in arms about the proposal from a start-up company that consists of one person, president Jeff Troth, and a plan that he has been trying to implement for over a decade. When the Ohio EPA issued a draft air permit to UPT on July 17, 2003, it vaulted the proposal to the forefront of the projects being considered by the SWACO to pay off the debt the City of Columbus still owes on the construction of the plant that has been idle since late 1994.

The pyrolysis facility that UPT envisioned would shred tires then bake them at 450 degrees in a reaction vessel in the absence of oxygen. The lighter, natural gas like hydrocarbons that would be emitted from the heated rubber would be cycled back to the burners that heat the vessel. The oil that would come from the rubber would be collected for re-sale. According to Troth, the most marketable product would be high-grade carbon black for use in air or water filters. It could also be used as filler in synthetic products used to make conveyer belts.

Back in April of 2002, SWACO held a public meeting on the UPT proposal according to an article by Mark Ferenchik of the Columbus Dispatch ( "Mike Long (SWACO Director) said the tire recycler could generate $2 million a year for the city, which still owes $89. 5 million (on the property)."

Ohio Citizen Action and of the Buckeye Environmental Network organized a coalition of residents that met weekly, and adopted the name SouthWest Neighbors Protecting Our Environment (SWNPOE). No one attending one of the SWNPOE weekly meetings could come away feeling that approval of the tire pyrolysis proposal would be quick or easy. These residents were determined to make their voices heard.

After Ohio Citizen Action distributed a fact sheet to residents in the neighborhood titled, "Guess who wants to be your neighbor," outlining the air pollution dangers to the residents of the area, they held a meeting on Thursday, September 18, 2003 at the Finland Middle School. Teresa Mills and representatives of Ohio Citizen Action informed the group of assembled residents that the proposal called for processing 8,333 pounds of tires an hour, 24 hours a day, 360 days a year.

Mills addressed the group, "This is one of the most important fights of our lives, and it is for our children." She was instrumental in the effort to shut down the Trash Burning Power Plant many years ago. According to Mills, the proposed operation would have the right conditions for the formation of dioxin, a dangerous carcinogen. There also could be fugitive emissions of toxic air pollutants from various valves, flanges and seals in the facility.

The weekly SWNPOE meetings that followed included discussions with the primary people responsible for authorizing and operating the proposed pyrolysis plant. On October 28, Ron Mills of the Solid Waste Authority of Central Ohio (SWACO) addressed a meeting of the SouthWest Neighbors. He told the group that the burden was on UPT to demonstrate the technical, environmental and economic feasibility of the proposed operation.

SWACO required UPT, the company that would own the facility and lease the property from the City of Columbus, to comply with the terms of a Memorandum of Understanding that they issued in February of 2002 before they would approve the proposal. The Memorandum stated that UPT would need to show that a similar facility had operated successfully for one year, that it would comply with State and Federal environmental regulations, and that a market existed for the product. Ron Mills said that UPT had not yet met these three criteria, so SWACO could not recommend the plan to the Columbus City Council. Since the City of Columbus owns the property, City Council would be required to approve the plan before UPT would be allowed on the property.

At another SWNPOE meeting in November, a member asked Mike Long, the director of SWACO, why he seemed so sure that UPT's proposal was a good plan in a letter dated May 6, 2002 addressed to community leaders, and now he is saying that he is taking a wait and see position. Long replied that at one point we can have confidence, and another doubts. "SWACO is not making any judgments at this point."

SWNPOE members also told Long that they were afraid UPT might get a modification to the air permit after it was finalized so that they could recycle computer parts as well as tires, which could generate more toxic organics and metals. Even though Jeff Troth, the president of UPT, denied that he planned to expand the process to computer parts, the air permit could have been modified to include them without a public hearing.

Long said that SWACO is considering several other proposed uses for the old Trash Burning Power Plant property, such as non-burning sorting of refuse, use as a transfer station, a paper to ethanol conversion facility and a process that would use sludge to produce electricity.

The Ohio EPA regulates facilities that emit significant amounts of pollutants to the air and must issue a final Permit to Install before operations can begin. This permit, which is drawn up by Ohio EPA engineers, sets limits to the amount of pollution that the facility can generate and prescribes pollution control equipment that the company must use.

Richard Lindstrom of the Ohio EPA is reviewing the permit application and writing the permit. Lindstrom disputes the likelihood of significant dioxin formation, which requires oxygen, because the pyrolysis vessel design excludes oxygen while the rubber is being vaporized. According to Lindstrom, even if dioxin is formed, most of it will be destroyed by pollution control equipment that the permit requires. It should be burned by the thermal oxidizer and washed out by the scrubber. There would also be a "bag house" to remove particulates in much the same way that a vacuum cleaner takes the dust out of the air it pulls through a carpet. The air pollution laws also require UPT to use Best Available Technology, which means they must employ the same controls that similar industry processes use.

Opponents pointed out that this type of catalytic tire pyrolysis is a relatively new technology, and other types of tire pyrolysis facilities have not met with economic success anywhere they have been tried. The U.S. Department of Energy says the process is not economically viable, and many feared that it could end up being an additional tax burden if things did not work out as planned and UPT folded, leaving the city stuck with the bill for cleaning up whatever toxic and waste materials the company left behind.

The Ohio EPA held a meeting on October 21, 2003 to inform residents about the UPT pyrolysis proposal. They began by describing the permitting process, the limits of pollutant levels that would be allowed under the permit that would be issued to UPT, and the controls that would be required. They pointed out that this was a much smaller operation than the original Trash Burning Power Plant operation, and believed the dioxin emissions would be low.

From the questions and comments coming from the residents in attendance it was clear that the Ohio EPA did not change many minds. They had no answers to questions about Emergency Planning and the potential for explosions.

UPT had not demonstrated they have the money to clean up the site if they end operations. The solid waste permit they need from the Ohio EPA required this financial assurance information, but UPT wanted to wait until after the air permit was issued to provide it. They would not be allowed to accept tires until they get the solid waste permit.

The group of residents questioned the economic benefits of the pyrolysis plant to the area as well as why it should be located in such a highly populated area. Mr. Robinson, head of Air Pollution Control at the Ohio EPA Central District Office replied that the pyrolysis facility would get rid of waste tires and free up landfill space. As for fugitive emissions from valves, flanges and couplings, Ohio EPA assumed that they would be to be so low that they did not need to include them in the control measures mandated by the air permit.

The concerned citizens attending the meeting did not seem to be reassured by what they had heard from the Ohio EPA. One resident pointed out that the permit limits allowed 150 tons of pollution per year to be emitted. Another said that the politicians were not protecting our health; they were only interested in getting more money for the City of Columbus.

Mr. Robinson said he could understand why the group of area residents might have doubts about the credibility of what the Ohio EPA was trying to tell them. Most people still remember widely publicized problems with the old Trash Burning Power Plant and Buckeye Egg Farm.

There was little doubt that UPT would get the final Permit to Install from the Ohio EPA even though at least two dozen south Columbus citizens gave on the record comments against it at the Public Hearing on November 6, 2003, and UPT had no lease arrangement with the City of Columbus that owns the facility. Most of the people who testified thought the pyrolysis plant would add to the air pollution hazards already in the area.

A representative of the local Sierra Club chapter said south Columbus already has the worst air quality in the area and that it had been declared an environmental justice area. A young woman who had asthma and lumps in her breast testified about the lethal legacy in southern Columbus. One person said he had cancer of the esophagus. A local law enforcement officer said his twins were sick all the time from the pollution in the area. A veteran who had cancer and a wife with Parkinson's disease said that G.I.s will risk their own lives against incredible odds to save one person, and now his own city is willing to kill their own people. A woman with a ten-year-old disabled son blamed his impairment on the pollution from the Trash Burning Power Plant. One speaker had a son with asthma and a father with cancer. "Annex us to Grove City," pleaded a resident. Another stated, "We are just as important as anyone else."

Many of the people who testified at the Public Hearing were concerned with the design of the facility, and felt the pollution controls mandated by the permit were inadequate. The specific process that UPT was proposing for the planned facility is totally new, and has not been verified under real world conditions. OEPA should have required vacuum monitoring of the pyrolysis vessel. Over 100 different bi-products could be expected, including heavy metals. All the precursors and temperatures necessary for the formation of dioxin are present. The OEPA did not know what catalyst would be used or how it would be stored.

According to testimony, the OEPA has never denied an air permit to anyone. "The Ohio EPA needs reforming," one resident shouted. Ohio EPA would not know all of the problems to expect from the proposed facility until it was in operation. By then, residents believed, it would be too late. One person asked if the Ohio EPA would make monitoring pollution from the facility a priority, and how long would it take them to shut it down if there was a problem.

Cheryl Grossman, the mayor of Grove City said that this should be of concern to all the people in Franklin County. The city council of Grove City had passed a resolution condemning the plan.

The group also questioned the economic justification and consequences of the proposed facility. Since only 20 people would be employed there it would not be bringing in many jobs. Also, would UPT have the financial backing to assure the area would be cleaned if the company closed? Would it be worth the property devaluation of area residential properties? How would it impact the new housing projects in the area?

The Columbus Health Department, the Franklin County Board of Health and the Central Ohio Sierra Club also submitted comments to the Ohio EPA questioning the proposal. Sierra had commissioned a study by Sagady & Associates that resulted in nine pages of technical criticisms. (read the full text at

The solid waste justification of the project, eliminating used automobile and truck tires, deflated when SWNPOE members contacted a tire re-cycling facility that is also on Jackson Pike. According to Liberty Tire, the company can already recycle up to 90% of the 12 to 14 million tires that Ohio generates each year.

According to a press release dated January 2, 2004 from Franklin County Commissioner and SWACO Trustee Dewey Stokes, "There are an estimated 29-million scrap tires in our state that are not going away on their own." However, Stokes opposes the UPT proposal. ". . . there are just too many unanswered questions for this project to proceed." (

Calderon-Grant, Inc., the consulting firm SWACO hired to evaluate the tire pyrolysis proposal, reported a telephone conversation with Titan Technologies, the company from which UPT is licensing the pyrolysis technology. Titan said they had prepared process flow schematic plans that UPT used in the application for the Ohio EPA Permit to Install (PTI), but no detailed process or facility design plans. "It is Titan's understanding from Jeff Troth of UPT that UPT intends to use receipt of the OEPA PTI to raise financing." (

In addition to testifying at the Ohio EPA Public Hearing on the proposed Permit to Install, members of SWNPOE also talked to representatives of the office of Columbus Mayor Michael Coleman, and addressed Columbus City Council and the SWACO Board of Directors. Signatures were collected from over fourteen thousand concerned citizens opposing the pyrolysis operation.

SouthWest Neighbors Protecting Our Environment meetings are held on the second Tuesday of each month at 7:00pm at the New Horizon Church on Harrisburg Pike. They are continuing to find ways reduce air pollution hazards in the area. Please call Ohio Citizen Action at (614) 263-4111 for more information.