With L.A. motorists returning an estimated 300,000 potentially flawed Firestone tires and other drivers statewide turning in another 700,000 or so, the question arises: Where will all those bogus tires go?

The lion's share is expected to end up at Santa Fe Springs-based Lakin Tire, a major tire wholesaler and recycler that's also the chief distributor and scrapper of Firestone tires for the entire Western United States.

As the tires are taken off the vehicles, it's Lakin's responsibility to collect them from dealers and try to find other uses for them.

When contacted, Lakin officials declined to comment on how rapidly they are collecting the tires or on any other aspect of the Firestone recall. One Lakin executive cited litigation fears as the reason for not commenting, another sign of just how touch-and-go the recall is proving for customers, dealers and wholesalers.

Lakin officials aren't the only ones concerned. State environmental officials are worried about the potential impacts of the looming tsunami of tires.

"Given the huge, unprecedented nature of this recall, we are tracking this situation very closely," said Lanny Clavecilla, spokesman for the California Integrated Waste Management Board, which regulates tire disposal. "We know that a lot of these tires will be recycled, with some being turned into asphalt, others into playground mats. But we aren't sure they will find markets for all these tires, and we're concerned about storing the tires in the meantime until the markets open up."

By state law, the tires can't be stored too long at dealers' or distributors' lots, in part because of the extreme fire danger. (While tires are hard to set ablaze, once they catch fire, the fires are among the most difficult to put out.) And there are only so many places that can recycle or warehouse tires.

Normally, a tire scrapper like Lakin would cull through the used tires and try to salvage some of the tires for reuse. Typically, many of these tires, especially the better-quality ones, end up being resold in other countries.

But each of the recalled tires is being intentionally punctured as soon as it comes off the vehicle, specifically to prevent its reuse. That means Lakin has to find recyclers for the tires, or some other means of disposal.

Sparing the landfills

Bridgestone/Firestone Inc. itself is working to find enough tire recyclers so as to avoid putting hundreds of thousands of tires into landfills.

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