The amount of microplastic in our environment is dwarfed by the amount of microrubber, according to researchers in Switzerland. Most microrubber comes from car tire abrasion.
Over the last 30 years, around 200,000 tons of microrubber have accumulated in the air and water of Switzerland alone, according to researchers from the Swiss Federal Laboratories of Materials Science and Technology (Empa). They call this an “impressive figure that has often been neglected in the discussions on microplastics”.
Their research found that around 97% of all microrubber particles in environment originate from tire abrasion, of which almost three quarters remain on the left and right side of the road in the first five meters. Some 20% end up in water bodies.
For now at least, the impact on humans is estimated to be low.
“The proportion of tire abrasion in inhaled fine dust is in the low single-digit percentage range even at locations close to traffic,” said Christoph Hüglin from Empa’s Air Pollution and Environmental Technology lab.
His colleague Bernd Nowack from Empa’s Technology and Society lab emphasizes, however, that microplastic and microrubber are not the same. According to his calculations, only 7% of the polymer-based microparticles released into the environment are made of plastic, while 93% are made of tire abrasion.
“The amount of microrubber in the environment is huge and therefore highly relevant”, Nowack added.
Image credit: tookapic via Pixabay