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NMSU reduces mosquito health risk by getting rid of illegally dumped tires

Health risks posed by mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus are being reduced, thanks to New Mexico State University students, faculty and the Luna County Road Department.



From left, New Mexico State University student Katrina Mackrain (foreground) disposes of an illegally dumped tire in Luna County while fellow students Ron Loper and Lisa Church do the same. (Photo courtesy of NMSU College of Health and Social Services)


By removing nearly 100,000 illegally dumped tires from Luna County, they are eliminating health and safety hazards and an eyesore.

"When you throw tires out in the brush or on the side of the road, they collect water and that's where the mosquitoes lay their eggs and become viable," said Larry Olsen, associate dean of the NMSU College of Health and Social Services, who leads the cleanup effort.

Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus were not discovered in southern New Mexico in 2003, but 289 mosquito hatches were found in Dona Ana County alone in 2004 and more than 800 hatches were found in southern New Mexico last year. Olsen said the workers are trying to prevent the Luna County dumpsite from becoming a hatch site for mosquitoes.

The students have been cleaning the site nearly every Saturday since early January. They work under the leadership of Olsen and Robert Czerniak, associate dean of the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences. Heavy equipment operators from the Luna County Road Department help clean up that county's largest illegal tire dump. A grant Olsen received from the Environmental Protection Agency includes the stipulation that NMSU will develop community and school-based programs that teach the importance of preventing illegal tire dumping at the site in the future. Another grant from the New Mexico Environment Department helps to support this work.

The tire site is being cleaned up for safety as well as health reasons, Olsen said. If a major fire started among the tires, the site's proximity to Interstate 10 could force the heavily traveled highway to shut down because smoke from the fire would greatly reduce visibility.

Between eight and 14 students and faculty leaders leave Las Cruces shortly after 7 a.m. on any given Saturday. They attend a 30- to 45-minute safety briefing in Deming, where they learn how to use personal safety equipment, how to lift correctly and how to avoid other types of injuries. By 9 a.m., the crew is in the field, removing tires and working with the road department employees who operate heavy equipment until mid-afternoon.

The students pull tires from the brush and roll them downhill, where they amass in areas for easier removal. In other cases, the tires are stacked in piles for subsequent loading for removal. A front-end loader scoops up tires and drops them into dump trucks for transporting to a baling site where whole tires may be cut into pieces and then whole or cut tires are loaded into a device that crushes them into one-ton bales.

Baled tires can be used in housing construction. Many tires from this particular site will be used to form the basic structure of an amphitheater being built in Luna County. They also may be used for erosion control, as road bank enhancement, as part of shooting ranges or taken to a "crumbing" site, where they are ground into little pieces and run through an electromagnet that removes steel belting material. These ground-up tire particles are sometimes added to cement, because their adherence power is stronger than that of gravel. They also are used as part of asphalt in road paving to make "quiet" roads and to fill empty mineshafts, Olsen said.

"At first, some people were skeptical of the students and our abilities," said Matthew Banegas, a graduate student studying public health at NMSU. "We wanted to show that we are dedicated honor students who intend to remove more than 100,000 tires as a possible mosquito breeding ground, thus reducing the chances of disease in this region."

Monetary compensation for the students' hard work will go to their respective honorary organizations - Eta Sigma Gamma, a national honorary society for health care students, and Phi Alpha, a national honorary society for social work students. This money will help pay some of the costs incurred when students travel to professional meetings or leadership training.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we never had a case of West Nile virus or dengue fever in this area?" Olsen asks. "Could we directly attribute it to the fact that we cleaned up one tire dump? No. Could that fact make an impression on the mind of somebody so he or she thinks twice before throwing out an old tire? Possibly. That's why we do the work."
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Photo is available at
http://ucommphoto.nmsu.edu/tires/DSC00071.jpg
CUTLINE: Health risks posed by mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus are being reduced, thanks to New Mexico State University students, faculty and the Luna County Road Department.


By removing nearly 100,000 illegally dumped tires from Luna County, they are eliminating health and safety hazards and an eyesore.

"When you throw tires out in the brush or on the side of the road, they collect water and that's where the mosquitoes lay their eggs and become viable," said Larry Olsen, associate dean of the NMSU College of Health and Social Services, who leads the cleanup effort.

Mosquitoes carrying the West Nile virus were not discovered in southern New Mexico in 2003, but 289 mosquito hatches were found in Dona Ana County alone in 2004 and more than 800 hatches were found in southern New Mexico last year. Olsen said the workers are trying to prevent the Luna County dumpsite from becoming a hatch site for mosquitoes.

The students have been cleaning the site nearly every Saturday since early January. They work under the leadership of Olsen and Robert Czerniak, associate dean of the NMSU College of Arts and Sciences. Heavy equipment operators from the Luna County Road Department help clean up that county's largest illegal tire dump. A grant Olsen received from the Environmental Protection Agency includes the stipulation that NMSU will develop community and school-based programs that teach the importance of preventing illegal tire dumping at the site in the future. Another grant from the New Mexico Environment Department helps to support this work.

The tire site is being cleaned up for safety as well as health reasons, Olsen said. If a major fire started among the tires, the site's proximity to Interstate 10 could force the heavily traveled highway to shut down because smoke from the fire would greatly reduce visibility.

Between eight and 14 students and faculty leaders leave Las Cruces shortly after 7 a.m. on any given Saturday. They attend a 30- to 45-minute safety briefing in Deming, where they learn how to use personal safety equipment, how to lift correctly and how to avoid other types of injuries. By 9 a.m., the crew is in the field, removing tires and working with the road department employees who operate heavy equipment until mid-afternoon.

The students pull tires from the brush and roll them downhill, where they amass in areas for easier removal. In other cases, the tires are stacked in piles for subsequent loading for removal. A front-end loader scoops up tires and drops them into dump trucks for transporting to a baling site where whole tires may be cut into pieces and then whole or cut tires are loaded into a device that crushes them into one-ton bales.

Baled tires can be used in housing construction. Many tires from this particular site will be used to form the basic structure of an amphitheater being built in Luna County. They also may be used for erosion control, as road bank enhancement, as part of shooting ranges or taken to a "crumbing" site, where they are ground into little pieces and run through an electromagnet that removes steel belting material. These ground-up tire particles are sometimes added to cement, because their adherence power is stronger than that of gravel. They also are used as part of asphalt in road paving to make "quiet" roads and to fill empty mineshafts, Olsen said.

"At first, some people were skeptical of the students and our abilities," said Matthew Banegas, a graduate student studying public health at NMSU. "We wanted to show that we are dedicated honor students who intend to remove more than 100,000 tires as a possible mosquito breeding ground, thus reducing the chances of disease in this region."

Monetary compensation for the students' hard work will go to their respective honorary organizations - Eta Sigma Gamma, a national honorary society for health care students, and Phi Alpha, a national honorary society for social work students. This money will help pay some of the costs incurred when students travel to professional meetings or leadership training.

"Wouldn't it be nice if we never had a case of West Nile virus or dengue fever in this area?" Olsen asks. "Could we directly attribute it to the fact that we cleaned up one tire dump? No. Could that fact make an impression on the mind of somebody so he or she thinks twice before throwing out an old tire? Possibly. That's why we do the work."