The US Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) filed a suit against US tyre manufacturers over the use of the rubber chemical 6PPD in rubber tyres because of its devastating impact on Endangered Species Act (ESA) — protected salmon and steelhead trout. The tyre makers involved account for 80% of the domestic US tyre market, according to the lawsuit, and include giants like Goodyear, Bridgestone, Michelin and Continental.
Also found in footwear, synthetic turf and playground equipment, when 6PPD reacts with ground-level ozone, it transforms into 6PPD-q — the second-most toxic chemical to aquatic species, second only to the chemical war agent parathion that has been banned around the globe, according to environmental law firm Earthjustice. Exposure to 6PPD-q can kill coho salmon within hours, and the chemical is largely responsible for “urban runoff mortality syndrome,” which kills up to 100% of coho returning to spawn in many urban streams, adds Earthjustice.
Declining fish populations have led to restrictions on commercial fishing, the lawsuit said.
6PPD-q is also toxic to other species of salmon such as Chinook, which are vitally important for ocean harvests, and which once supported tens of thousands of commercial salmon fishing west coast jobs. California’s entire salmon fleet has been thrown out of work this year because too few salmon have been surviving as juveniles in the state’s rivers, many of which are now polluted by 6PPD-q from urban runoff. Very low coho numbers also legally restrict commercial salmon harvesters from access to more abundant Chinook fisheries, and thus also severely limit their catch.
“Tyre companies are violating the Endangered Species Act by continuing to use 6PPD in tyres,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, senior attorney with Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program. “Manufacturers have known for years that they must invest in viable alternatives, yet they continue to kill critically imperilled salmon and other fish protected under the ESA. It is time for these companies to be held accountable for the devastating impact 6PPD-q has had on our fisheries.”
The fishing groups brought their enforcement action under Section 9 of the ESA. The complaint states that 6PPD in tyres is imperilling the recovery of 24 populations of coho, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout that are listed as endangered or threatened under the ESA. Tyre manufacturers’ use of 6PPD generates and contributes to ongoing, ubiquitous contamination of surface waters near roads with 6PPD-q, harming coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead trout, and many other fish and aquatic species.
The Environmental Protection Agency recently granted a petition to address the use of 6PPD in tires to help protect salmon. The agency agreed with petitioners that it was “necessary to initiate” risk management rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act “to address risk to the environment from 6PPD-quinone, a degradant of 6PPD.” The EPA noted that “concentrations of 6PPD-quinone in stormwater in the Pacific Northwest were found to be lethal to coho salmon after only a few hours of exposure.”
Salmon and steelhead are keystone species that support entire ecosystems. At least 135 other species depend on salmon and steelhead for food, including southern resident killer whales (SRKW), eagles, bears, wolves, and seals. Robust salmon stocks are also important to the national economy, once supporting an estimated 16,000 jobs in the west coast’s commercial and recreational fishing industry.
Tyre manufacturers have used 6PPD since the 1950s to keep tyres from degrading too quickly. At the tyre’s surface, 6PPD interacts with ozone to create several transformation products, including 6PPD-q. 6PPD-q is then picked up during storm events and discharged into nearby waterways. The chemical is not only present in stormwater runoff and urban watersheds, but also in sediments and soils, household dust, and even human urine.
According to Earthjustice, emerging science has also pointed to high toxicity in mammals, indicating a potential risk to human health. There are a number of potential alternatives to the use of 6PPD in tyres. Funding additional research to identify alternatives, and retool their factories to use those alternatives is well within the capability of the tyre industry, and should be its highest priority, itadds.
According to AP news agency, the US Tire Manufacturers Association, which is not named as a defendant, said in a statement recently that work is already underway to identify a chemical to replace 6PPD while still meeting federal safety standards. Forcing the companies to change too quickly would be bad for public safety and the economy, it said.