Tyre particles are believed to transfer in large quantities from vehicles into our rivers and oceans. However, their precise fate – and the impact they have – remains something of a mystery.
Now a three-year project funded by the Natural Environment Research Council aims to assess this until now hidden form of marine litter, and show the effects it could have on our seas and the species within them.
Bringing together the Universities of Plymouth, Exeter and Newcastle, together with Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the research will aim to quantify tyre particle concentrations at their points of entry to the marine environment.
It will then explore how far they can spread, and any harm they might cause, by measuring concentrations in the sediment, water and biota up to 15km from the shoreline.
The project – Lost at Sea: where are all the tyre particles? (TYRE-LOSS) – will build on a major government-funded study published earlier this year, and also led by the University of Plymouth and Newcastle University.
It indicated up to 100million m² of the UK’s river network – and more than 50million m² of estuarine and coastal waters – at risk of contamination by tyre particles.
The new research will use techniques developed through that project to construct and validate mathematical models describing the dispersal of tyre particles in inshore waters.
This information will then be used to establish the potential for any associated risks to marine life at environmentally relevant concentrations.
As well as uniting some of the world’s leading experts in microplastics, environmental chemistry, coastal dynamics and ecotoxicology, the project is being supported by an advisory group including policy makers, representatives of the tyre, automobile, plastics and water industries, and environmental charities.
Professor Richard Thompson OBE FRS, Head of the International Marine Litter Research Unit at the University of Plymouth and Principal Investigator on the TYRE-LOSS project said: