They're a disaster for the environment in more ways than you think.

Tire Fire

You've probably heard warnings that the ocean is filling up with microplastics, with blame often settling on single-use consumer goods like plastic straws.

But the villain may instead be sitting in your driveway. According to a recent report by the Pew Charitable Trust, an estimated 78 percent of microplastics found in the ocean come from synthetic tire rubber, making it a massive contributor to ocean plastic pollution.

Over the last couple of years, scientists have identified a chemical called 6PPD-q that's extremely toxic to a number of fish species, as a recent writeup on the subject by Yale University's Environment 360 publication points out.

Worryingly, tire manufacturers are still using 6PPD, the precursor of this chemical, to produce car and truck tires. We still don't know the exact scale of the issue, but given the sheer amount of microplastics in the ocean, it certainly doesn't bode well.

And that's not to mention the hundreds of other potentially carcinogenic chemicals and compounds used by tire manufacturers that eventually leach into our oceans.

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Last month, the legal nonprofit Earthjustice threatened to sue tire makers for violating the Endangered Species Act by using the chemical. Native American tribes also called on the US Environmental Protection Agency to ban its use, pointing at the devastating effects it has on local salmon species.

The scale of the issue is likely staggering. An estimated two billion tires are produced globally every year, a number that's expected to continue growing significantly.

When driven, the four tires of a car release one trillion ultrafine particles less than 100 nanometers in size per kilometer driven, according to a recent analysis by UK firm Emissions Analytics. That makes them small enough to make it into our lungs and bloodstream.

Other studies have concluded that in some cases, these particles can even exceed the emissions coming from a given car's tailpipe.

In short, 6PPD-q is only the tip of the tireberg, and we've only begun to understand its disastrous effects on the environment and our health.

"You’ve got a chemical cocktail in these tires that no one really understands and is kept highly confidential by the tire manufacturers," Nick Molden, the CEO of Emissions Analytics, told Yale E360.  "We struggle to think of another consumer product that is so prevalent in the world, and used by virtually everyone, where there is so little known of what is in them."

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