The word is starting to get out. Plastic microparticles released into the environment from common road tires should be treated as a “high concern” pollutant, that may exceed chronic safety limits in some heavily contaminated environments, new research has shown.
A team of researchers, including experts from the University of Plymouth and the University of Exeter, looked at the chronic toxicity of particles and chemical leachates found on a series of popular tyre brands. Unfortunately, the researchers continue to refer to microparticles emitted from rubber tires as "microplastics." We have to ask ourselves whether competent and knowledgable scientists refer to anything microparticulate in nature and based on an organic material as "microplastic" in order to increase the likelihood that they will secure funding?
The researchers then looked at the effect these particles and chemicals would have on small planktonic crustaceans, the water flea (Daphnia magna). They discovered that the plastic pollutants from the tires showed a distinct effect on both the reproduction and development of the water flea – which also displayed visible particle uptake within their digestive tract.
When looking at the leachates – liquid that has passed through the tyre material, taking some of the harmful chemicals with it – they found a strong presence of zinc, titanium and strontium as well as many organic chemicals.
Overall, of the numerous organic chemicals present during the test, more than 50 were found across all five tyre brands, with a significant number of those chemicals classified as very toxic.
This new research shows that tire particles are hazardous pollutants, and should be treated as a particular concern close, to or possibly above, chronic environmental safety limits in some locations, researchers say.
The research, published in the Journal of Hazardous Materials, is part of the TYRE-LOSS: Lost at Sea – where are all the tyre particles? project being led by the University of Plymouth with funding from the Natural Environment Research Council.