Particles from vehicle tires are a significant source of microplastics in marine environments, according to UK government-funded research.
The study led by the University of Plymouth is one of the first worldwide to identify tire particles as a major source of microplastics, and provides information to understand how particles enter the ocean.
It found that particles can be transported directly to the ocean through the atmosphere or carried by rainwater into rivers and sewers.
Researchers estimate that around 100,000,000m2 of UK rivers and 50,000,000m2 of estuaries and coastal waterways are at risk of contamination by tire particles.
Rebecca Pow, government minister for domestic marine, said, “Reducing plastic pollution in the ocean is one of the greatest environmental challenges that we face. This study will help us face that challenge by identifying areas for future research.”
The researchers developed a method using mass spectrometry to detect tire-derived microplastics in the environment.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE, head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit, said scientists had long suspected that tire debris was a hidden threat for the marine environment, but few studies had been carried out.
He said, “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.”