The West Nile virus, a virulent pathogen often spread by mosquitoes that breed in standing water in scrap tires, is showing no signs of going away.
And although tire manufacturers and dealers are working hard to minimize the threat of the virus on their end, they aren't always getting help from state officials, according to industry spokesmen.
As of Aug. 27, 43 states reported verified cases of avian, animal and mosquito infection with the West Nile virus, and 34 reported human cases. Twenty-one of the 1,442 people infected died, according to the Web site of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
That compares with 2002 CDC totals of 4,156 human cases and 284 deaths. But this doesn't take into account the speed at which West Nile can spread among human populations.
For example, the CDC didn't record the first human West Nile case this year until July 7, in South Carolina. And as late as Oct. 2, 2002, the count of human West Nile cases stood only at 2,530 for that year, including 125 deaths.
Nor is there apparent across-the-board progress in eradicating the Culex mosquitoes that carry the West Nile virus. Illinois-which led the nation in West Nile infection last year, with 884 human cases and 64 deaths-has so far this year reported only two human cases. But Colorado, which had only 14 human cases and no deaths in 2002, leads the U.S. so far in 2003 with 635 cases and six deaths.
For Michael Blumenthal, senior technical director at the Rubber Manufacturers Association, this demonstrates the wildly divergent approaches taken by Illinois and Colorado to West Nile issues in general and to scrap tires in particular.
"Colorado is not at all prepared," Blumenthal said. "They pretty much killed their scrap tire program by taking the funds they collected and using them for other purposes." Weld County, Colo., alone has an untouched pile of 5 million scrap tires, he said, though "they've talked about it for years."
Illinois, on the other hand, is the model of a proactive state for scrap tire abatement, according to Blumenthal.
"Illinois passed a bill earlier this year to increase its scrap tire fee by $1 for the next three years to finish off its small stockpiles," he said. "They started their scrap tire program back in 1989, and have been going great guns ever since. They have a dynamic scrap tire program."
While the RMA works to have viable scrap tire abatement and recycling programs established in every state, tire dealer organizations are striving to ensure their members know as much as possible about the West Nile virus and how it spreads.
The Mid-America Tire Dealers Association in Topeka, Kan., has a toll-free hotline its members can call to get advice on the virus and tire regulations. The association also has worked with scientists and state officials to identify chemicals that are effective in preventing mosquitoes from breeding inside tires.
A different program was installed in Louisiana. The Louisiana Independent Tire Dealers Association worked with the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality to create a statewide media campaign for dealers to accept as many as 10 tires each from anyone in the state, free of charge. So far this year, the state has experienced 30 human cases of the West Nile virus and no deaths, compared with 329 cases and 25 deaths in 2002.
Nevertheless, the West Nile virus continues to spread. "It's only a matter of time before it's all over the U.S.," Blumenthal said.