Rubber from tyres damages aquatic habitats

Particles of rubber worn off vehicle tyres on roads could be damaging aquatic habitats, killing off the organisms that live in waterways, according to new research in the US.

Alison J Draper, an assistant professor of chemistry at Bucknell University in Pennsylvania, has been investigating the effect on the environment of tyre particles containing heavy metals such as zinc and cadmium, hydrocarbons, latex and sulphur-containing compounds.

By leaving tyre particles in samples of water for 10 days and then filtered off, Draper created a ‘leachate’. All organisms that were exposed to the leachate in the laboratory, including algae, duckweed, daphnia, fathead minnows and snails, died.

Draper is currently working on determining the levels of rubber chemicals in water that cause sub-lethal effects such as reproductive problems in snails and pre-cancerous lesions in minnows.

Although all of Draper’s work has so far been conducted in the laboratory, there is good evidence that tyre rubber has similar effects on organisms living in real waterways along roadsides, she says.

Draper previously worked on diesel exhaust, and has found that rubber particles from tyres can have a similar affect on respiration, aggravating problems such as asthma or allergies.

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