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Bonfire builders pile on tyres despite fears of toxic cloud

By Claire McNeilly

Bonfire builders are continuing to ignore warnings and are instead fortifying their Eleventh Night pyres with tyres, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

It is a worrying development that has ignited health and safety fears among residents and business in built-up areas who risk being engulfed by toxic fumes.

It follows a spate of deliveries of hundreds of potentially lethal tyres this week at various locations across Northern Ireland under cover of darkness.

Burning tyres releases a deadly cocktail of more than 100 chemicals into the air, with the fine particles able to settle in people's lungs. They can lead to heart problems and are also carcinogenic.

Now, the Northern Ireland Environment Agency has warned that action will be taken against "producers and/or carriers who allow them to be deposited at bonfire sites".

But despite complaints from local people, retailers and councillors, those constructing Eleventh Night bonfires appear to have disregarded their fears.

There was a sizeable collection of old tractor and car tyres lying inside Tommy Patton Memorial Park in east Belfast yesterday, for example, where a bonfire was under construction.

Earlier this week, a truck was photographed shedding hundreds of tyres onto a site at Ballybeen estate in Dundonald - and they were still there last night.

That same night, scores of tyres also appeared on the pyre in the car park beside Avoniel Leisure Centre in east Belfast, although they were later removed.

Speaking to the Belfast Telegraph, Alderman Tommy Jeffers, a DUP councillor for Castlereagh East, said the health and safety of his constituents was paramount. "Tyres should not be on a bonfire under any circumstances from an environmental point of view," he added.

One woman, who told how she could see the bonfire from the front window of her home, added that she was appalled at what had been "dumped in the neighbourhood".

"My husband and I were both diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and although it's impossible to prove, doctors have told us it could be linked to living so close to a bonfire," she said. "In the past, when they've used tyres, the fire has smouldered for up to three weeks and that isn't a pleasant experience for anyone living in the area."

Last June, former Environment Minister Mark Durkan called for an end to the practice of burning tyres, speaking in response to a question from Alliance MLA Stewart Dickson. "The burning of tyres in an unauthorised manner such as bonfires is illegal and generates toxic fumes and by-products which are extremely dangerous to our health and the environment," he said.

A spokesman for the Northern Ireland Environment Agency, which is part of the Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs, said it would "concentrate on progressively reducing the number of tyres being burnt on bonfires".

Chief Superintendent Chris Noble said that while the PSNI acknowledges that "bonfires are an important part of Northern Ireland's culture and legacy, they can cause concerns among some communities".

"Police are very concerned about tyres being dumped or used on bonfires and are actively working with partners to see these materials removed, but also recognise that very often there are limited or indeed no powers in place for us to act upon," he added.

"The physical removal of bonfire material is not a matter for police. As a general rule the placing of bonfire material on private property is civil trespass and a matter for the landowner, however police will assist other lead statutory partners carry out their duties if called upon to do so."

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