The researchers, from Imperial College London’s Transition to Zero Pollution initiative warned that even if electric vehicles solve the fuel emissions problem, we will still have a problem with the particulate matter due to tyre wear.
Particles from tyre wear pollute environment
Six million tonnes of tyre wear particles are released globally each year, and in London alone, 2.6 million vehicles emit around 9,000 tonnes of tyre wear particles per year.
Despite this, research into the health and environmental impacts of tyre wear has been neglected in comparison to research and innovations dedicated to addressing fuel emissions. Imperial researchers say the effect of new technologies on the generation and impact of tyre wear should be a priority.
In the investigation, a team of Imperial experts, including engineers, environmentalists, doctors and air quality analysts, have called for as much investment as possible in tyre wear research to reduce fuel emissions and understand their interactions.
Lead author Dr. Zhengchu Tan, from Imperial’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, said: “Particles from tyre wear pollute the environment, the air we breathe, the water flowing on the roads, and have a negative impact in waterways and agriculture”.
“Even if all our vehicles ran on electricity instead of fossil fuels, there would still be harmful pollution from vehicles due to tyre wear” he added.
Sustainable pollution-free future
Transition to Zero Pollution is an initiative of Imperial College London that aims to forge new partnerships between research, industry and government to help achieve a sustainable pollution-free future.
To protect the safety of our planet and the health of future generations, we must look at every problem,” said Professor Mary Ryan, Vice-Chancellor and Co-Investigator at Imperial College London. So we need to look beyond carbon and consider all forms of human-made pollution.
Electric vehicles are an important step in decarbonizing transportation, but we also need to look at the bigger picture. There is also some concern that electric vehicles will be heavier, which could increase tyre wear.
Tyre wear particles
As Tyres break down, they release a variety of particles, from visible pieces of rubber to nanoparticles.
Larger particles are carried from the road by rain to rivers, where they can leach toxic chemicals into the environment, while smaller particles become airborne and are inhaled into the body. They are so small that they reach the lungs.
These particles can contain a variety of toxic chemicals, including polyaromatic hydrocarbons, benzothiazoles, isoprene, and heavy metals like zinc and lead.
Environmental effects of Tyre wear particles
Tyre wear particles are a major source of ‘microplastics’ in rivers and oceans, and Tyre wear in cities may be up to four times more likely to pose an environmental threat than other microplastics.
While existing technological interventions such as filters and environmental policies can help control our ecological footprint, there is a large gap in our knowledge, understanding, and ability to estimate the impacts of Tyre wear pollution.
Tyre waste does not break down naturally and instead accumulates in the environment and can interact with other contaminants as well as biological organisms, said Dr. Will Pearce, a co-investigator in Imperial’s Department of Life Sciences.
The impact of Tyre wear particles on human health is a growing concern, and the full long-term effects on our health urgently require more research.
There is emerging evidence that Tyre wears particles and other particles can contribute to a variety of negative health impacts, including cardiac, pulmonary, developmental, reproductive, and cancer outcomes.
Co-author Professor Terry Tetley from Imperial’s National Heart and Lung Institute said: “We are increasingly concerned about the impact of Tyre wear on human health. As some of these particles are so small that they can be transported in the air, it is possible that simply walking on the pavement could expose us to this type of pollution. It is essential that we better understand the effect of these particles on our health.”
Another study, conducted by researchers from the UK’s National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit in Environmental Exposures and Health and the University of York, found that tyre wear particles released into the air can cause serious health problems, including asthma, cancer, and heart disease.
The study examined the impact of tyre and brake wear particles on air quality in urban environments.
The researchers found that tyre wear particles can contain harmful chemicals such as zinc, lead, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), which are known to cause cancer.
They also found that these particles can travel long distances and accumulate in soil and water, further increasing the risk of exposure.
The study highlights the need for more research into the health risks associated with tyre wear particles and the need for measures to reduce their emissions.
The researchers suggested that policy interventions such as reducing vehicle speed limits and promoting the use of public transportation could help reduce the impact of tyre wear particles on air quality and public health.
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