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Researchers issue warning after mass fish killings linked to toxic tire component: 'A chemical cocktail in these tires that … is kept highly confidential'

Tackling toxins in tires could be a key piece of the puzzle.

Tackling toxins in tires could be a key piece of the puzzle.

Photo Credit: iStock

When you think about vehicle pollution, what comes to mind? Dirty exhaust fumes coming from the tailpipe? It might be time to start worrying more about what's coming off the tires.

New research is raising the alarm about toxic chemicals and particles from tires that could be harming fish, wildlife, and human health.

What's happening?

Vehicle pollution has long been a major environmental concern, but new research suggests we need to pay more attention to what's coming off our tires, not just out of the tailpipe.

In particular, a chemical called 6PPD, added to tires to make them last longer, is raising alarm bells with scientists, according to Phys.org.

When tires wear down on roads, 6PPD is released and reacts with ozone to form another chemical, 6PPD-quinone. This substance has been linked to huge salmon die-offs in the Pacific Northwest. But that's not the only worry with tires — they also contain heavy metals and release trillions of microplastic particles as they wear down.

Why are toxic tires concerning?

Here's the big issue: we don't really know what's in our tires.

As Nick Molden, CEO of Emissions Analytics, put it, per Phys.org, "You've got a chemical cocktail in these tires that no one really understands and is kept highly confidential by the tire manufacturers. We struggle to think of another consumer product that is so prevalent in the world and used by virtually everyone, where there is so little known of what is in them."

As these mysterious ingredients shed off tires and end up in our air and water, they could be harming our health. Tire particles may affect the heart, lungs, and reproductive organs and even cause cancer, especially for those living and working near busy roads.

They are also a major source of microplastic pollution in our oceans.

What's being done about toxic tires?

The good news is that researchers and regulators are starting to take notice and action. 

California now requires manufacturers to look for alternatives to 6PPD. A group of 16 major tire companies has formed a consortium to analyze 6PPD alternatives and see if safer substitutes exist.

Some Native American tribes have petitioned the EPA to ban 6PPD entirely to protect the salmon populations they depend on. The EPA says it is considering new rules on the chemical.

While more research is still needed to unravel the full impact of the complex mix of chemicals in tires, the important thing is that this long-overlooked source of pollution is finally getting much-needed scrutiny, and solutions are starting to emerge. 

Tackling toxins in tires could be a key piece of the puzzle in detoxing our environment and protecting our health.

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