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The Observers – The toxic impacts of fires at the world’s largest tyre graveyard in Kuwait

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Shocking images of a fire last April at a massive “tyre graveyard” in Kuwait went viral this summer, revealing a serious environmental problem that faces the small Gulf country. More than 50 million tyres have been dumped at the Salmi landfill, just a dozen kilometres from the capital. Frequent fires at the site release toxic gases, harmful to both humans and the environment. 

The FRANCE 24 Observers team spoke to Fatma Al Zalzalah, a 24-year-old engineer from Kuwait, who launched an environmental initiative called “Eco Star” in 2019 to help promote better recycling of waste. 

When certain types of waste products burn or when they’re left untreated for a long time, they release toxic substances. When tyres burn, it releases a substance known as “carbon black”. It’s one of the most harmful forms of carbon. Some of the dumps are located close to residential areas, meaning the residents suffer from respiratory illnesses.

These tyre graveyards contain thousands of tonnes of rubber, which sits exposed to the burning sun, thus releasing carcinogenic gas harmful for humans and the environment. Dioxins are released into the atmosphere when synthetic rubber combusts, even at low temperatures.

In the 1980s and 1990s, Kuwait made a business importing used tyres from other countries, importing 259 million used tyres per year from the United States and Europe, until the practice was banned in 2001.

The city has plans to export 5 million tyres before the end of the year, but says that “efforts have been made to transport the tyres, but the city has limited resources faced with the large number of tyres and waste”.

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