The state Department of Environmental Conservation is overseeing the removal of an estimated 2.5 million tires -- some buried beneath about 40 feet of soil -- in Kings Park at the seventh largest such stockpile in the state.
About 875,000 whole and shredded tires have been removed since April from the roughly five-acre Old Northport Road property, DEC officials said. Town officials have wanted the site cleaned for decades.
Roughly 100,000 of the recycled tires that were removed were above ground, but the remaining tires are underground, officials said.
"At this particular site, our greatest environmental concern was the chance of fire," said Dave Vitale, director of the Bureau of Permitting and Planning in the DEC's Division of Materials Management in Albany. "When tires burn, they produce a petroleum product that could contaminate the groundwater."
Fires at similar recycling sites throughout the country have been known to burn for years.
Smithtown Town records show the property is owned by Michael and Pasquale Izzo. An adjacent lot, on which town records show tire stockpiling also occurred, is owned by Alexander P. and Anthony M. Izzo. Alexander Izzo declined to comment through a representative. The other Izzos could not be reached. It is unclear how they are related.
Smithtown Supervisor Patrick Vecchio said the town learned about the tire pile in the 1980s. The town determined the site was a health hazard due to possible mosquito infestations, associated viruses and long-burning fires, he said.
Town Public Safety Director John Valentine said a small fire at the site back then required multiple bulldozers. "It was so intense, and so hot, and so difficult to put out," he said. "We were there all night."
Valentine said the fire led the town in 1990 to sue the four Izzos, as well as Ernest Force, who leased the property to operate New York Tire Recycling. An injunction directed the defendants to remove all tires by 1991.
Smithtown then spent about $1 million to remove and shred above-ground tires for nearly a year, Vecchio said. The DEC served Force, Pasquale and Michael Izzo with a complaint in 2000, and Force removed and disposed of about 60,000 tires shortly after receiving the notice, DEC officials said.
In January 2004, the DEC informed Michael and Pasquale Izzo that the property would be abated due to authority granted the state by the new Waste Tire Management and Recycling Act, officials said.
In 2010, site owners were ordered to remove tires, submit weekly reports and pay the DEC $250,000. But by January 2011, the requirements had not been met, DEC officials said.
The state Office of General Services awarded a $2.4 million bid for the project in March to S&M Prompt Rubbish Removal Service Inc., of Freeport, officials said. The contract was extended Sept. 25 through April 3, 2015, officials said.
Whole tires will be processed into shred, which DEC officials said can be used as part of landfill gas collection systems.
The state plans to pursue recovery of cleanup costs and other penalties, officials said.
Suffolk County spokeswoman Vanessa Baird-Streeter said the site may be taken by the Suffolk County Landbank Corp., established to redevelop and recoup tax arrears on environmentally compromised property. The county has a lien on the site, which Baird-Streeter said has $2.3 million in tax arrears dating back to 1994.