Shredding Tires to Fight Mosquitoes

Tires provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes by holding and insulting standing water.

Tires provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes by holding and insulting standing water. shutterstock

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A Louisiana parish will use federal grant money to buy a tire shredder to eliminate mosquito breeding grounds.

Throughout East Baton Rouge Parish, mosquitoes are laying eggs inside of discarded tires.

The tires, piled in vacant lots and side streets in the large parish, hold and insulate standing water, providing the perfect breeding ground for the disease-carrying insects. Pest control workers periodically spray the tires with pesticide, which treats, rather than eliminates, the problem. That was the only option—until now.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this week presented the East Baton Rouge Parish Mosquito Abatement and Rodent Control District with a $605,000 grant to purchase a tire shredder, allowing the parish to cut down on mosquito habitat throughout the area. About $380,000 of the funds will be used to pay for the machinery itself, with the rest going to construction and renovation costs, personnel and training.

The CDC has awarded similar grants in Puerto Rico, but none in the continental U.S. before now. Baton Rouge will serve as a pilot program and will work with other mosquito control districts across the state to help eliminate piles of tires and the breeding environments they foster. Asian tiger mosquitoes, which can carry diseases like West Nile virus and Zika, are particularly fond of tires, according to Todd Walker, director of the district.

“It’s very hard to get water out of a tire, and they also collect organic matter, which makes it even a better habitat for mosquitoes to breed in,” he said. “The Asian tiger mosquitoes like tires. You can really tell just by going into an area with tires—there’s an abundance of those mosquitoes. And the mosquitoes that breed in tires are, many of them, capable of transmitting those mosquito-borne diseases.”

Mosquito control is a year-round effort in humid Louisiana, where officials spray larvicide even in winter and will occasionally crack ice to check for healthy clutches of eggs in the standing water beneath. In East Baton Rouge Parish, those efforts have included mapping piles of used tires—109 in all, ranging in size from 10 to roughly 8,000 tires—to identify areas that need to be treated with pesticides. 

“There seems to be a very big used-tire industry in this part of Louisiana, and those tires don’t always make it into the system,” Walker said. “There’s a lot of waste tires that are just out there in woodlots and vacant lots and ditches that people have just dumped. I’m just trying to pick up the ones in the ditches that nobody wants or owns.”

Intact tires can’t be taken to landfills, Walker said, but tires that have been broken down can be disposed of. The shredder will give the parish the option to chop both car and truck tires into 2x2 chunks or into 2-inch strips. The pieces then roll down a conveyor belt into a dumpster, and are transported to either a landfill or a recycling center. The machine—roughly 15 feet tall and 20 feet long—will be housed in a vacant building within the parish, though the facility will need to be remodeled to properly accommodate it.

The goal, ultimately, is to reduce the overall mosquito population while helping to prevent the transmission of diseases. Seventy-two cases of West Nile virus have been confirmed in Louisiana this year, more than in any other state in the country. Preventing even one of those would justify the cost of the machinery, Walker said.

“Anything we can do to try to reduce the number of mosquitoes out there benefits our taxpayers and humanity,” he said. “If you turn around and think about the fact that one perosn is disabled by or passes away from West Nile or has to go to the hospital for a long period of time—this one person I can stop from having to do that will pay for this thing in my point of view. That’s how important it is to me.”

Kate Elizabeth Queram is a Staff Correspondent for Government Executive’s Route Fifty and is based in Washington, D.C.

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