How dangerous are vehicle tire microplastics?

Paul Moody and Hannah Bergmann inflate a tire to recommended pressure.

Hannah, Layla, Paul, and Joe are members of the Explorer Club sponsored by Bay Sea Scouts. They are entering their project in the U.S. Army-funded eCyberMission Challenge competition.

For our Explorer Club STEM project this year, our team decided to study pollution from tire microplastics. We were amazed to learn that car and truck tires in the U.S. generate about 1.8 million tons of microplastics a year, this is according to a study in October 2017 by Pieter J. Kole, Open University of the Netherlands.

While many of these microplastics, absorbed by the surrounding soil and stream sediments, don't reach Lake Erie, approximately 20 percent do in Bay Village, where many storm drains flow directly into the lake. SUVs and the coming electric vehicles, which are heavier because of their batteries, create even more microplastics. To make matters worse, on the West Coast, a study by the scientists at the University of Washington discovered that a chemical, 6PPD-Quinone, added to tires to lengthen their life, kill off over half the Coho salmon in urban streams in the Puget Sound.

Fortunately, no such fish kill has occurred in Lake Erie. In an email received from Jill Bartolotta, Extension Educator, Ohio Sea Grant Program, she wrote, "To my knowledge, we have not conducted any studies on the effects of tire pollution in the Great Lakes similar to the Coho study. However, studies from Great Lakes-based researchers show that fish are ingesting plastics (primarily plastic fibers from the washing and wearing of synthetic clothing like fleece jackets), affecting their health. Recent studies show that larval fish with plastics in their bodies have a higher likelihood of developing tumors or growth abnormalities (unpublished research by Chelsea Rochman, 2020). Other researchers have also studied the effects of the chemicals associated with plastics (PAHs and P.F.A.s) and have found them to cause cancer and disrupt the hormones. The Coho study is of great importance because it is the first to link the chemicals associated with plastics to living organisms' mortality. So far, this has not been proven scientifically."

So what can we do? There are actions we can take now as individuals and a city to help. In a Zoom meeting with Kimm Jarden, Lead Sustainability Specialist, Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co., Kimm had suggestions to increase our tires' lives and reduce their wear (fewer microplastics). Here they are:

  1. Tire Pressure: Proper inflation pressure – perhaps the most essential tire condition to monitor – gives tires the ability to support the vehicle, and you control it for maximum performance. Bonus benefit: Maintaining proper inflation pressure maximizes fuel economy, too. Tire Pressure Monitoring Systems (TPMS) detect loss of inflation pressure and warn drivers when tires are 25% under-inflated. For many vehicles, this warning may be too late to prevent damage. TPMS is not a replacement for monthly tire pressure checks with a gauge.
  2. Tread Depth: Tread equals traction – giving your tires a grip on the road, especially in bad weather. Lose too much tread, and you could lose control. Here's a quick and affordable tread test: Place a penny upside down into a tread groove. If the tread covers part of Lincoln's head, you're good to go. If you can see all of his head, it's new tire time.
  3. Tire Rotation: Rotating your tires based on the recommendations in your vehicle's owner's manual can prevent irregular tire wear. If no rotation period is specified, USTMA recommends every 5,000 to 8,000 miles.
  4. Tire Alignment: Hitting a pothole or other road hazard could cause alignment issues. Misaligned wheels can lead to uneven, rapid tread wear and should be corrected by a tire dealer. Have your alignment checked at any indication of trouble, such as "pulling," and periodically, along with your tire balance, as specified by your vehicle's owner's manual.

Bay Village city government has a responsibility too; we have a road sweeper that does an excellent job collecting road debris, including tire microplastics. In an email response to our inquiry, Jonathan Liskovec, Director of Public Services and Properties, told us that the sweeper is on the road when the weather is conducive and staffing levels allow. The sweepings are then properly disposed of after being placed in a dumpster.

Much more research into the effects of tire and road microplastics has to be funded before we know the full impact of these microplastics.

Hannah Bergmann, Layla Meaux, Paul Moody and Joe Beauchesne

The adult leader with Bay Sea Scouts, contact

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Volume 13, Issue 3, Posted 10:12 AM, 02.02.2021