Think Car Exhaust Is Bad? Wait ‘Til You Hear About Tire Pollution

Think Car Exhaust Is Bad? Wait ‘Til You Hear About Tire Pollution
Photo: PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP, Getty Images

Petrol-powered cars are horrible for the environment and our lungs, but new research shows that particles released by rubber tires are a major contributor to air pollution, too.

Tests conducted over two years by UK-based consultancy and research firm Emissions Analytics found that car tires produce up to 2,000 times more particle pollution than exhaust does. The tires release more than 1 trillion ultra-fine particles for each kilometre or 2 km driven. These particles are so small that they can enter our organs via the bloodstream, the Guardian reports.

Car tires are made out of rubber, but there are also tons of other chemicals in them as well to preserve things like elasticity and durability over time. And when those tires are constantly on the road, the tire particles and the chemicals in them are released.

“There are hundreds and hundreds of chemicals, many of which are carcinogenic,” Nick Molden, the CEO and founder of Emissions Analytics, told the Guardian. “When you multiply it by the total wear rates, you get to some very staggering figures as to what’s being released.”

Car exhaust is a long-known pollutant, and therefore tailpipes are retrofitted to decrease the amount of pollutants being emitted. But the particles released by tired are so small, they’re hard to regulate and track. Molden told the Guardian that different brands of tires have different rates of particle pollution, and because we can’t just tell people to stop using their personal vehicles, the next best step would be to ban the worst-offending tire brands.

Pollution is extremely dangerous. A study released last month found that pollution contributed to about 9 million early deaths in 2019, most connected to air pollution. This particular form of pollution is connected to spikes in asthma episodes, lung cancer, and even heart conditions that could lead to heart attacks. As Gizmodo has previously covered, air pollution doesn’t just get into our lungs — it also enters the brain, where it contributes to mental illness and dementia.