Do you remember Earth Day back in primary school? Where you’d learn all about how plastic straws are hurting turtles, and how you can save fish by cutting the rings on your six pack of Coke. But the next day, the cafeteria’s new paper straws would magically turn back into plastic, and the VHS of Captain Planet and the Planeteers would go back on the TV cart to hibernate for another 364 days. We all learned about the small things we as individuals could do to help the planet — but the larger structures of our young lives remained unchanged.
Now, another established global structure threatens the environment: that of car tyre manufacturing. An additive called 6PPD, which was recently discovered to have harmful effects on salmon and trout, has now made its first appearance in the southern hemisphere — contaminating the waterways of Australia.
6PPD, the additive in question, isn’t harmful to fish on its own. It is, however, extremely helpful to the process of tyre manufacturing. 6PPD helps tyres last longer, by slowing down the process of dry rot in rubber. It fends off ozone and oxygen, widely regarded as the enemy of us all, and the U.S. Tire Manufacturer’s Association claims there are “no known alternatives to 6PPD that provide the same safety and performance characteristics in a [tyre].”
Despite its resilience, however, ozone and oxygen are 6PPD’s undoing. When the additive reacts with those atmospheric gases, it forms a new compound called 6PPD-quinone. That compound is highly toxic to both salmon and trout, and can contaminate entire streams that would otherwise be hotspots for fish. After its initial discovery in Seattle, the compound was later found again in Canada — and now all the way down in Australia.
While studies have shown 6PPD-quinone concentrations in Australia similar to those responsible for killing Seattle salmon, no research has yet conclusively shown that the compound is having a detrimental effect on the country’s wildlife. According to scientists who spoke with Guardian Australia, that research is their next step.
Primary school Earth Day was meant to show all of us kids how we could make a difference for the planet, and have a positive impact on this ever-changing world in which we live in. But if your takeaway was that systemic changes matter far more than individual ones, you’re on the right track. If you care about 6PPD-quinone’s impact on wildlife, there isn’t an additive-free tyre you can go out and ethically source. Your only option to make a difference is to simply not drive.