Tyre particles are a major source of marine pollution and are contaminating the UK’s rivers and oceans.
That’s the conclusion reached in a new report from the Department for Environment, Food & Rural Affairs and the University of Plymouth – the government-funded research study suggests vehicle tyres are a previously largely unrecorded source of microplastics in the marine environment.
The study shows tyre particles can be transported directly to the ocean through the atmosphere or carried by rainwater into rivers and sewers, where they can pass through the water treatment process, placing around 100 million square metres of the UK’s river network and more than 50 million square metres of estuarine and coastal waters at risk of contamination.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE said: “Scientists have long suspected that tyre debris is posing a hidden threat to the marine environment. However, there have been few studies measuring abundance in aquatic environments. Now that we have a clearer indication on quantities we need to gain a better understanding on transport in the environment and the potential impacts on marine life.
“This study gives us a real insight into the importance of tyre wear as a source of microplastics. However there are still many unknowns, and compared with other forms of microplastics we know relatively little about tyre wear particles. So it is important to continue to take steps to reduce emissions of better-understood sources like fibres from textiles and the fragmentation of larger items.”