London - Particles released from vehicle tires could be a significant and largely unrecorded source of microplastics in the marine environment, a new UK government-funded study has suggested.
The research was led by the University of Plymouth with the aim of raising scientific understanding of how particles from tires, synthetic fibres and maritime equipment enter the ocean.
According to a UK government release, the study shows that tire particles can be transported directly to the ocean through the atmosphere or carried by rainwater into rivers and sewers.
The researchers claim that this could place around 100 million m² of the UK’s river network and 50 million m² of estuary and coastal waters at risk of contamination by tire particles.
The report, published 27 May, will “help us face that challenge by identifying areas for future research, such as changes to roadside drainage,” commented Rebecca Pow, the UK’s domestic marine minister.
The study was directed by Professor Richard Thompson OBE, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, and Plymouth researchers Dr Imogen Napper and Florence Parker-Jurd.
The research team also included Dr Geoff Abbott from the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences at Newcastle University, who has developed a new mass spectrometry technique to detect tire-derived microplastics in the environment,
“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, Thompson commented in the release.
“This study gives us a real insight into the importance of tire wear as a source of microplastics,” he added.
“However, there are still many unknowns, and compared with other forms of microplastics we know relatively little about tire wear particles.”
Thompson also stressed the importance of cooperation between the industry and policy makers to identify potential solutions, which he said could include changes in behaviour, changes in product design and waste management.
Full report available at UK government website.