Traces of rubber preservative chemicals can be found along scenic side roads on the West Coast, killing local salmon populations. Getty Images
U.S. regulators have banned the use of a chemical found in nearly all tires following a petition from West Coast Native American tribes to ban the chemical, which they say kills salmon returning from the ocean to their natal rivers to spawn. announced that it would be reconsidered.
The Yurok Tribe of California and the Port Gamble-Sklallam and Puyallup Tribes of Washington state banned the rubber preservative 6PPD earlier this year, saying it kills fish, especially coho salmon, when rain washes it off roads and into rivers. request to the Environmental Protection Agency. Washington, Oregon, Vermont, Rhode Island and Connecticut also sent letters to the EPA, citing the “unreasonable threat” the chemical poses to waters and fisheries.
The agency’s decision last week to grant the petition marks the beginning of a long regulatory process that could result in the chemical being banned. Tire manufacturers are already looking for alternatives that meet federal safety requirements.
“We cannot stand by while the 6PPD kills the fish that sustain us,” Yurok Tribal Chairman Joseph L. James told The Associated Press. “This deadly toxin has no use in salmon-bearing watersheds.”
6PPD has been used as a rubber preservative in tires for 60 years. It is also included in footwear, artificial turf, and playground equipment.
As tires wear out, they leave small particles of rubber on roads and parking lots. This chemical breaks down into its byproduct, 6PPD-quinone, which is deadly to salmon, steelhead trout, and other aquatic wildlife. Coho appears to be particularly sensitive. They could be killed within hours, the tribe claimed.
Salmon are important to the diets and cultures of tribes in the Pacific Northwest and California, who have fought for decades to protect dwindling fish from climate change, pollution, development, and dams that block their way to spawning grounds. It’s here.
The chemical’s effects on coho were noted in 2020 by Washington state scientists who were studying why the coho population, which had recovered in Puget Sound several years ago, was struggling.
“This is an important first step in regulating what has been an environmentally destructive chemical for decades,” said an attorney with the environmental law firm Earthjustice, who is representing the tribe. , said Elizabeth Forsyth.
She called this “one of the biggest environmental problems the world doesn’t yet know about.”
The American Tire Manufacturers Association said in a statement that analysis is underway to identify a replacement for 6PPD that can meet federal safety standards, but none have yet been found.
“Prematurely banning the use of 6PPD in tires would have a negative impact on public safety and the national economy,” the statement said.
The Puyallup Tribal Council called the EPA’s decision “a victory for salmon, all species and people.”
The agency plans to begin collecting further information that could inform proposed regulations by next fall. It would also require manufacturers and importers of 6PPD to report unpublished health and safety studies by the end of next year. There is no deadline for final decision.
“These salmon and other fish have suffered dramatic population declines for many years. Addressing the use of 6PPD-quinone and its parent 6PPD in the environment will reverse this trend. “This is one way we can work to improve the environment,” Michal Freedhoff, deputy administrator in EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention, said in a statement.
The effects of this chemical on human health are unknown, the EPA noted.
Suanne Brander, an associate professor and ecotoxicologist at Oregon State University, said the decision was a good one, but cautioned that 6PPD was likely not the only lethal effect on salmon. She said she’s also concerned about the chemicals that tire manufacturers end up using to replace tires.
“As someone who has been researching chemicals and microplastics for a while, my concern is that we are really focused on this one chemical, but in the end we end up with a mixture. I mean, there is,” she said. “What is concerning is the variety of chemicals the fish are being exposed to at the same time.”
Thiessen reported from Anchorage, Alaska.