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Tire Pollution: The Next Frontier in the Fight for Cleaner Cars


Sunday, October 15th, 2023


This week’s core story is about: Tire pollution.


A new study by researchers at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand found damage from climate-driven extreme weather costs around $143 billion per year globally, equivalent to around $16 million per hour. The researchers analyzed the climate-change attributed costs of 185 extreme weather events from 2000 to 2019, finding they totaled $2.86 trillion. The yearly costs ranged from a low of $23.9 billion in 2001 to a high of $620 billion in 2008.

A new study by researchers at Penn State University suggests that if global temperatures increase by 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, billions of people living in Pakistan, India, China, and Africa will annually experience hours of heat beyond what humans can tolerate. The study found the regions would primarily experience high-humidity heat waves, which limits the amount of excess moisture the air can absorb, including sweat. If warming reaches 3°C, heat and humidity beyond human tolerance will impact the Eastern Seaboard and middle of the U.S.

A new study by researchers at the World Stroke Organization-Lancet Neurology Commission found global stroke deaths could reach 9.7 million per year by 2050, representing a 50% increase from 2020 levels. The study found the treatment, rehabilitation, and indirect costs associated with stroke could more than double from $891 billion per year in 2017 to up to $2.3 trillion per year in 2050. Low- and middle-income countries would be the most affected, experiencing 91% of global stroke deaths in 2050 (up from 86% in 2020).

In a new series of studies published across three Science journals, an international team of researchers presented the largest and most detailed map of the human brain ever created, revealing some 3,300 cell types, many of which are new to scientists. The work is part of the U.S. National Institute of Health’s BRAIN Initiative - Cell Census Network, a collaboration between hundreds of scientists with the goal of cataloging brain cell types across humans, non-humans, and mice to better understand brain disorders. The researchers laid the foundation of the map by sequencing the RNA of more than 3 million individual cells across 106 locations of the human brain.

Tire Pollution: The Next Frontier in the Fight for Cleaner Cars

A recent report by researchers at Imperial College London found tire pollution in the form of tire wear particles is harming human and animal health.

USA Today

Tailpipe emissions have been a target of governments and regulators for decades. New research suggests we may be on the brink of the next target: tires.

What’s happening:

In 1970, Congress passed the first major Clean Air Act (the legislation actually amended an original 1963 act), requiring automakers to achieve a 90% reduction in emissions from new vehicles by 1975 and granting the newly created Environmental Protection Agency broad authority to regulate motor vehicle emissions.

Upon signing the legislation, President Richard Nixon described it as a starting point, saying, “I think that 1970 will be known as the year of the beginning, in which we really began to move on the problems of clean air and clean water and open spaces for the future generations of America.”

By the time Nixon signed the act, pollutants from motor vehicles had already been in the federal government’s crosshairs for some time, and the new bill and empowered executive agency were part of a push to reduce emissions and broaden existing emissions standards.

Fast forward 50 years and significant environmental progress has been made through the federal regulation and enforcement granted by the 1970 act and its subsequent amendments (the 1990 amendments have been particularly successful).

Today, new passenger cars and trucks are 99% cleaner than those sold in the 1960s and 1970s, and atmospheric sulfur levels are 90% lower. Fuels have also become drastically cleaner (remember lead gasoline?) and fuel efficiency has reached new heights (going from an average of 13 miles per gallon in the 1970s to 25 miles per gallon in 2019).

The interest in electric vehicles since the 1990s can also be attributed to federal environmental legislation (specifically the 1990 Clean Air Act Amendment), and it’s fair to say the popularity of consumer EVs has been at least partly driven by federal funding.

Indeed, all things considered, five decades of federal environmental legislation aimed at vehicle emissions and standards appears to be working, and Nixon was right: it all started in the 1970s.

Now, we may be on the cusp of the next great environmental fight involving cars: pollution from tires.

What the research says:

Tire pollution comes in the form of what are known as “tire wear particles,” or TWPs, which are continually shed from tires as they break down while traveling.

The particles come in various shapes and sizes, ranging from visible pieces of rubber on the sides of roads to microscopic airborne particles, and they can be so small that they can pass through lung tissue into the bloodstream and cross the body’s blood-brain barrier if inhaled.

A recent report by a multidisciplinary team of researchers at Imperial College London analyzed the environmental and health impacts of TWPs, finding the particles are particularly damaging due to the toxic chemicals from which they’re made. Those chemicals can leach into the environment through various mechanisms, negatively impacting human and animal health.

The report found some 6 million tonnes of TWPs are released each year globally, polluting everything from the air we breathe to the water in our rivers and oceans. Particulate matter from tire wear is also a “significant source” of microplastics in waterways, and could pose up to a four-fold greater environmental risk than other microplastics.

Despite the emerging evidence of TWPs’ negative environmental and health impacts, the report found research on the subject has largely been neglected in comparison to the decades-long effort put into understanding fuel emissions.

To remedy the disparity in attention and come up with innovative solutions, the researchers are calling on policymakers and scientists to “embark on ambitious research” into TWPs and how to reduce the associated negative health effects.

“We are growing increasingly concerned by the impact of tyre wear on human health,” said study author Terry Tetley. “As some of these particles are so small they can be carried in the air, it’s 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.”

Why it matters:

The Imperial researchers argue reducing tire pollution should be seen as a critical part of making transportation cleaner, suggesting that an investment equal to what has been devoted to reducing tailpipe emissions should be focused on developing technologies that reduce TWPs.

The team argues an equal investment is all the more vital since tire pollution will be a problem even in a future of reduced tailpipe emissions thanks to mass EV adoption (other evidence suggests EVs can emit 20% more tire pollution than traditional vehicles due to the extra weight).

Regulators seem to be taking notice. In Europe, a new standard coming in 2025 will expand the regulation of emissions beyond tailpipes to include tires and brakes, and in California, the state’s Environmental Protection Agency has laid out rules requiring tire makers to find alternatives to some of the toxic chemicals they currently use by next year.

In the end, it obviously remains to be seen what regulators will do to tackle tire pollution, and broad change may not come until after the “ambitious” research and innovation called for by the Imperial team is finished.

But, who knows? If the first great environmental fight involving cars tackled tailpipe emissions, maybe the next will take on tires. Like Nixon’s premonition in 1970, maybe one day we’ll look back on 2023 as another “beginning.”


A new study found U.S. multiracial adolescents report higher rates of depression though receive less treatment.


Multiracial Adolescents Are More Prone to Depression But Receive Less Treatment

A new study by researchers at Harvard Medical School found 26.5% of U.S. multiracial adolescents (i.e., adolescents of more than one race or ethnicity) experienced symptoms of major depressive disorder (MDD) in 2021, the highest rate among any racial group, though they also reported the lowest rate of treatment (21.1%). The study included a sample of 10,700 Americans ages 12 to 17.

  • The study uncovered distinct differences in rates of the disorder across racial and ethnic groups, finding 14.5% of Black adolescents, 14.6% of Asian adolescents, and 20.2% of white adolescents reported symptoms of MDD. Latino adolescents experienced symptoms at a slightly higher rate (around 23%).

  • Overall, the study found around 20% of U.S. adolescents experienced symptoms of MDD in 2021 (the first full year of the pandemic), though less than half who needed treatment received care.



A new study found that even temporarily exceeding 2 degrees of warming will shrink marine habitats.


Even Temporary Global Warming Beyond 2°C Will Shrink Marine Habitats for Centuries

A new study by researchers at CSIRO in Australia examined the implications of exceeding the well-known goal of limiting global warming to 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels (known as “climate overshoot”), finding that even temporarily exceeding the emissions targets would cause changes in ocean temperatures and oxygen levels that will decrease marine habitats for centuries.

  • The team analyzed the effects of ocean temperature and oxygen levels across various climate overshoot models, finding water volumes that can provide viable habitats for 72 marine species will decrease as oceans warm and become less oxygenated. The study also found the decreases will persist for centuries, well after global temperatures recover from the overshoot.

  • The researchers say the findings raise concerns about “shrinking habitats” for marine species. “For example, species like tuna live in well-oxygenated surface waters and are restricted by low oxygen in deeper waters. Their habitat will be compressed towards the surface for hundreds of years, according to our study.”



A new study found Americans born in 2019 could spend half of their lives taking prescription medications.

Adobe Stock

Americans Born in 2019 May Spend Half of Their Lives Taking Prescription Medication

A new study by researchers at Penn State University found a newborn American girl in 2019 can expect to take prescription drugs for approximately 48 years, or about 60% of her life, while newborn boys in 2019 can expect to take them for around 37 years, or 48% of their life.

  • The study included survey data from 15,000 U.S. households collected from 1996 through 2019 by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, finding the majority of American women are taking prescription medication by age 15, while most men are using them by age 40.

  • “The years that people can expect to spend taking prescription drugs are now higher than they might spend in their first marriage, getting an education, or being in the labor force,” said study author Jessica Ho. “It’s important to recognize the central role that prescription drug use has taken on in our lives.”



Long Video. Can the diabetes and weight-loss drugs Ozempic and Wegovy help solve America’s obesity crisis? (19 min)

Short Video. Learn how Israel’s Iron Dome intercepts and destroys short-range rockets and mortars. (3 min)

Fun Video. Here’s how Panda Express makes 110 million pounds of orange chicken each year. (11 min)

Good Read. Read about the medieval sect that inspired the Assassin’s Creed video game series. (2,402 words; 12 min)

Neat List. The 62 most groundbreaking documentaries of all time, according to The New Yorker.


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Written by Ryan Wittler