TWO men have been arrested as suspected “waste criminals” after 32,000 illegally-hoarded used tyres were discovered in an industrial unit.

Police and Environment Agency investigators found the stacks of used tyres when they raided the unsigned unit just a five-minute walk from Blackburn town centre.

The disposal and recycling of worn tyres is legally controlled because of the serious environmental pollution they can cause if they catch fire.

A blaze involving 32,000 tyres would trigger a mass evacuation of the immediate area.

A trader has to have a special permit to legally recycle tyres or sell them on.

Typically motorists pay retailers up to £5 per tyre for a recycling service which could add up to £160,000 for the 32,000 tyres.

In return for their licence traders agree to “prevent pollution and harm to human health”.

The Environment Agency said the unnamed business using the warehouse was under investigation for contravening its environmental permit.

Lancashire Fire and Rescue Service’s station manager, Jim Fowler, said: “The steps taken on Wednesday were necessary to keep the area around the site in Blackburn safe.

“The suspected illegal activities that have been carried out on the premises put the local community at risk.

“Fire safety enforcement officers are investigating the site to establish whether there have been any breaches of the Fire Safety Order and actions will be taken against the owners if required.”

The agency said the raid was part of Operation Broadway, “an investigation into businesses that contravene their environmental permits, the exporting of illegal waste through organised criminal networks and industrial-scale fly-tipping”.

Mat Crocker, Environment Agency head of illegal and waste, said: “The Environment Agency will protect the legitimate recycling industry by being robust in tracking down waste criminals and bringing them to justice. As well as undercutting small businesses, waste crime risks damaging public health and the environment.”

An 18-year-old man and a 23-year-old man both from Blackburn were arrested on suspicion of contravening the requirements of an environmental permit.

They have now been bailed until June pending further investigations.

Louis Hunt, Environment Agency Senior Investigating Officer, said: “This raid has been a success.

“This is an ongoing investigation and we would urge anyone with suspicions or knowledge of illegal waste activities to contact the Environment Agency on 0800 807060 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555111.”

Rubber is not bio-degradable but tyres can be recycled and made into useful new products including flooring, road surfaces, furniture and even shoes.

Another well-documented use includes fuel for cement kilns.

Two other raids were also carried out in Greater Manchester on Wednesday resulting in a further three arrests.

Laws protect the environment

TRADERS who dispose of rubber tyres are strictly monitored because of the potential risks to human health and the environment.

The Environment Agency issues permits to individual tyre recyclers enabling them to charge customers up to £5 to take away their old and worn tyres.

Rubber is not bio-degradable and when it burns it produces pollution harmful to both the ozone layer and people’s health. The Environment Agency said permits are given only to individuals who can satisfy the agency they will practice within the law.

There are about 8,000 environmental permits in force in England and Wales.

If a company fails to operate within the conditions of their permit, then the Environment Agency will take enforcement action.

Illegal operators often do not have waste permits or exemptions.

Bales of waste tyres can be used in the construction of modern engineered landfill sites and flood defences or be turned into dock fenders at ports.

Some in good condition can even be remoulded and used on the road as retreads.

To report information about illegal waste activities, call the Environment Agency on 0800 80 70 60.