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Where Has All The Rubber Gone? 44

Makarand writes "We all recognize vehicle tailpipe emissions to be a source of pollution. But what happens to the castoff rubber from your tires that have lost tread? No one knew where this rubbber was going until recently. Allison Draper, a professor of environmental chemistry at Bucknell University, is conducting research to end all guess work on this topic and with the hope of finding ways to make tires less polluting. She found for every kilometer a car travels, about 90 milligrams of tread wears off in particles ranging in size 10-75 microns.Toxins in the larger suspended particles leach out when exposed to water and the run off harms plant and animal life. These toxins are still being identified."
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Where Has All The Rubber Gone?

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  • Prof. Draper recommends we start using wooden tires as in bullock carts.
  • by Freston Youseff ( 628628 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @04:31PM (#4776654) Homepage Journal
    I propose genetically engineered rodents whose lung tissue bonds with rubber particles, which in turn are eaten by stray cats that are attracted by extra-potent rodent pheromones. The cats are then collected and forced to vomit. Then the vomit is taken to the Springfield Perpetually Burning Tire Fire and set ablaze! Woah nellie, talk about a flash of insight into the mind of Rube Goldberg!
    • ya know i had this idea that we shodl genetically enhance pidgones to eat cigarette butts. then theyw ill be filel with nicotine, and then we can sell pidgone meta back tot the smokers for their nic fix.
  • by ActiveSX ( 301342 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @04:33PM (#4776664) Homepage
    No one knew where this rubbber was going until recently.

    Isn't it obbvious? They're making keybboards out of it now!
  • by glenstar ( 569572 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @04:57PM (#4776749)
    Well, I for one am married, so I only use that resource once a month at most. ;-)
  • Ahem! (Score:1, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward
    Well, you know, ehmm...
    On second thought this is slashdot, you don't know.

    Thinking this over again what a sad loser i am...

  • by solferino ( 100959 ) <hazchem&gmail,com> on Thursday November 28, 2002 @06:36PM (#4777095) Homepage
    cut yr rubber pollution in half (or prob even more) by changing over to a motorcycle

    added benefits :

    experience the joy of sweeping through curves on two wheels as opposed to whaling through them on four

    riding a motorcycle is so dangerous you will be forced into a state of active meditation everytime you get out on the road
    • I ride a bike, and I recommend it, but not for rubber conservation. I change the tires on my bike about four times as often as those on my pickup, so I suspect the rubber pollution is about a push. The active meditation is where it's at.
      • Yes, and it gets worse as the horsepower to contact patch ratio goes less in favor of the tire. I have an older Ninja 1000, which uses relatively narrow tires, and I replace the rear one every 2000-4000 miles (depending on how often I take it to the dragstrip). Tire spin on that bike is a bitch. Just because you don't notice it doesn't mean that it isn't there to some extent. You do save some on gas with a bike, but even that doesn't happen with a big one that's being ridden hard in traffic (not abused, mind you, I've got 55,000 miles on the original motor, it doesn't burn oil, and it runs the 1/8 mile in 9 flat, bone stock with NOTHING done to it) but it only gets 20-24 mpg around town. Bottom line, if you want to get a bike (or two wheeler in general) to help the environment get a moped, a small dual sport, or a mountain bike (pedal powered). Big, fast bikes aren't all that enviro-friendly, but that's not why most people have them, even if they use that excuse on their girlfriend :)
    • but I already do sweep through the turns on two wheels! I suppose that's why mister traffic officer likes to talk to me, though.
  • Scarry (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bobibleyboo ( 13303 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @06:41PM (#4777118)
    It (polution) starts to become really scarry when you start adding up all of the little things (like this) that you never think about. Especially when you add it's effect to the larger more commonley talked about polution problems.

  • Is because I patented magnetic wheels and steel roads!

    Magnetic roads and steel wheels patent pending.


  • by Alethes ( 533985 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @07:24PM (#4777300)
    I remember reading a while back about a guy that convinced Nike to remove a few of the toxins from their rubber soles so they would cause less problems for the environment. I wonder if the same thing could be done with tires.
  • by MacAndrew ( 463832 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @09:39PM (#4777712) Homepage
    I remember this question being posed 30 years ago. My rough recollection is that UV light was significant to the decomposition of the "rubber" bits (it's a petrol product) and that they were somehow biodegradable when washed away. It's noteworthy that the stuff doesn't pile up on the side of the road.

    A figure I recall is that Americans use up 100 million tires a year.

    The particulates causing asthma could be plausible. Another suspected culprit is diesel particulates or DEP. The particles may be more or less benign, but cause an irritation that might contribute the the rise in asthma and other respiratory problems.

    Anyway ... what are the chances of a significant reformulation of tire rubber?
    • by Anonymous Coward
      Actually the synthetic (petrolium) rubbers are mostly more resistant to sunlight than latex rubber.
      • There has been research for years on using urethane tires to cut wear and rolling friction, but they have a bad habit of expanding from heat. In other words, drive at 60 mph for a few minutes and it comes off the rim. An old professor worked on this for years... although it seemed like his main dissapointment in the failure was that "it would have been really cool to make tires in whatever color you want". Scientists :)
    • by Anonymous Coward
      For as long as money is king nothing but nothing is going to change corp. and government from finding more than "Another suspected culprit" un quote suspected I am 40 years old and really this has been all they ever find but let one fn eagle die and then you have polution DDT but let millions of kids not be able to breath and it will only be a suspected.

      i say if it is suspected then outlaw it untill it can be proven that its not a problem.

      not left in the system untill it is peoven that it is.

      Why not error on the side of health and environment.

      instead of profit and greed.

      Just this /.er's opinion and not the responsiblity of the web site or any readers
      or any other person animal place or thing.
      that can be sued or not sued or any other
      type of finacial terrorism.
      • Science is funny. This researcher says that plants and minnows reacted badly to something, but she doesn't know what. Not a clue. No "chemical X did this" or "compound Y did this". Just "something bad happened". And the obligatory "more research needed". Sometimes researchers find the results they expected, and don't really look at explanations other than their own. Anyone read Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring"? A classic among enviromentalists; it was the book that got DDT banned in this country. I admit, banning DDT did the eagles a lot of good, but it wasn't research on eagles that triggered the research that led to that book. It was a sudden drop in the songbird population at the University of Wisconsin, which led to a search for man-made pesticides that could hurt birds. And she found one. However, if you read the appendix of a recent edition of that book, what killed off the songbirds at that university was a sudden population explosion of STRAY HOUSECATS! This study on tire wear runoff is at best preliminary research, and doesn't offer much if any insight into how a complex ecosystem reacts to a particular solution. Not that it's research that shouldn't be done, but it's got the smell of someone looking for a soundbite to justify grant money.
  • Experimental Design (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Guppy ( 12314 ) on Thursday November 28, 2002 @11:40PM (#4778136)
    It looks like Dr. Draper is taking a very direct method of testing this out -- grind up tires, expose to water, raise test organisms in water. Looks like a very empirical approach.

    One thing about the rubber that comes off tires is that it's worn and weathered. Both the surface where the wear is directly, and the particles themselves have had time to oxidize, which is going to change the types of compounds that you'll leach from your samples. More accurate results might be obtained if she took her ground samples, and let them age a bit while exposed to air and sunlight. Some substances would break down or be altered, while other new ones might be formed during this time.

    After leaching the particles, you might then pass it through soil samples. Larger particulates will settle out, while some organic substances will bind to clays or be degraded by microbes. The results might be more like what actually ends up in run-off.

    If she wanted to take a more reductionist approach, she could obtain the individual substances used in tires, and test them individually against her organisms. Butadiene rubber, Carbon black, Silica (sometimes), Sulfur vulcanizing agents, etc. This ignores any reactions that may occur between the ingredients (probably minimal for some ingredients like carbon black, but extensive for the vulcanizing agents, for example), but gives some hints as to what exactly is causing your problems.
  • Runaway tires? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by phorm ( 591458 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @03:19PM (#4780826) Journal
    How about the effects of "retread" tires on the environment? Here in BC, we have a lot of big trucks going through. Since new tires are expensive, they get continuous retreads (basically old tires with new tread applied). You see a lot of "gators" on the side of the road, in the road, etc where large portions of the retread have simply come loose and spun away.

    Granted, retreading a tire is probably nicer on the environment than bringing out a whole new tire, but not when these retreads are laying along roadsides polluting etc.

    Not to mention that some of these suckers are quite large. When they come flying off of big-rig towards you, it would be somewhat of a safety hazard?
    • Re:Runaway tires? (Score:1, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      What makes you think it is a retread?

      Tires ARE manufactured like this. The tread is not an integral part of the tire.
    • Retreads are a much bigger concern if you are on a motorcycle behind a semi. Those tires are HEAVY, and most of that weight is in the tread. 75 to 100 lbs each and up (yes, I design semis for a living... some tires weigh a lot more and the more it weighs the more likely it is to come apart). The rule of thumb, as any experienced motorcycle rider will tell you, is that if you're behind a rig and smell rubber burning you have ten seconds to get out from behind it. Wait longer than that and there's a good chance that the oil/gasoline/brake fluid leaking out of your mangled bike in the ditch are going to be doing more environmental damage than the shed tire :) Allthough at that point you probably won't care. In all fairness, it's not usually a retread issue, it's usually poor inspection and maintaince procedures and low inflation that result in all of those tire carcasses littering the interstate. If you ride on two wheels, be careful tailgateing big trucks :)
  • MILLIgrams? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by Gothmolly ( 148874 ) on Friday November 29, 2002 @04:14PM (#4781061)
    90 mg/km = 1 kg per 11111 km =
    1 lb or rubber per 3080 miles?

    I have 70,000 mile tires on my car, so does that mean that when they're old, my tires will be 22lbs lighter, EACH?

    I find this suspect...

    • Re:MILLIgrams? (Score:5, Interesting)

      by BandwidthHog ( 257320 ) <inactive.slashdo ...> on Friday November 29, 2002 @06:06PM (#4781429) Homepage Journal
      I myself was wondering if that statistic was per tire or per car, i.e. four tires. If it's per set of four, that would put 70,000 miles of wear at about seven pounds, which I could believe, if forced to.

      Interesting. This means that in addition to balding tires give you a bit more dry traction, they now give you slightly better mileage through reduced weight. Science is just racking up reasons for me to put off a new tire purchase.
    • Try "V" rated tires; you'll be lucky to get 20,000 miles out of a set of those. That makes the math work out pretty well. Maybe this researcher has a sports car.
    • ... happen to come with your Ford Explorer ?

      On a normal car *I* have to drive in, I would not trust tires that last 70.000 miles, because under adverse conditions (cold, wet) the rubber would be too hard to get good grip on the road.

      If you want to reduce the cost of driving, buy a smaller car or drive more carefully to save on gas and tire wear, but do not risk your and your families health by compromising the single most important active safety component of your car.

    • If the treadwear rating on the tire is low (e.g. 60 for racing slicks), then the tires will wear out five times faster than the average passenger car tire (treadwear of about 300). It also depends on how you drive and what surfaces you drive on. Driving over crushed shale on your way to these remote towns north of the Arctic Circle is a lot worse than driving over freshly paved smooth blacktop. But there's a bigger problem here. Most of the mass of the tires is in the steel belts and the sidewalls to keep its integrity. I don't disagree that there may be some impact from tire dust, but this sounds like another misguided crusade to try and find something wrong with cars with respect to the environment.
      • High performance tires don't "wear" as much as they "age" due to heat changing their chemistry and grip. Go to any roadracing course that is used by motorcycle racers and you will find a) racers selling R compound rubber with two races on it and plenty of tread, but no grip due to heat changing the rubber and b) plenty of street squids wanting to buy it to tell their fellow squids that they have R compound tires on their bike. As long as the wannabe never pushes the tire, he never knows the difference and it wears out in a couple of months anyway (most don't, so everyone wins). Really sticky tires just don't last long, for more than one reason.
  • I thought all the rubbers got flushed actually, I used to work at a sewerage works, we had millions of retreads to choose from.
  • by RandyF ( 588707 ) on Saturday November 30, 2002 @05:55PM (#4785087) Journal

    I remember reading recently (within the last year) that a naturally occuring bacteria has been found along roadsides that actually break down and digest the rubber debri from tires. Again, these were NATURALLY occurring organisms, not GMOs. The lack of rubber debri buildup had puzzled scientists for years until this discovery.

    You've got to remember the second law of thermodynamics: all things move from order to disorder (at least I think it was the second law... :) ). Nature has a way of breaking down just about everything, even our pollution! It may take time, and yes, we can "overproduce" polution, overwhelming the natural process. We simply need to pace production to meet measured, natural remediation. Sometimes, we need to give it a helping hand to make things better (our hand in defying that same "second law" that we are relying on.) Sometimes relying on nature and its cycle is not wise because the presence of certain chemicals in the environment, even if they do get broken down quickly, could cause health problems.

    Another thought... When one large volcano erupts once, and we're talking a big blast here, not your typical "I think the mountain god is hungry" type of rumble, Chloro Flouro Carbons (however you spell it) and other polution (typically only linked with modern industrial pollution) are pumped into the environment in volumes in excess of ALL modern pollution over its entire history. Yea, the ash drops the temperature/raises the temperature, causes storms and other hellish environmental catastrophies, but it passes. The cycle catches up, sun goes up, sun goes down.

    I'm adamantly FOR environmental responsibility. I am also for a LEARNED response to otherwise fear inciting "discoveries". Think it out. Learn the process. Compare with past evidences. THEN make policy. If something comes up that seems to contradict the policy, follow the same procedures and if the policy is wrong, change it.

    Pure environmentalists are great people. We would lack the necessary conscience to take proper care of our environment without them. They are, however, oversensative to their ideals and, so, should not be running the policy. Just like RMS should not be "running" the open source movement. He is a great voice in the frey. Without him, we would not have gotten as far as we have, nor will we get were we need to be without his voice and others like his. The edgyness of his idealism, however, would drive too many people from the cause if he were "in charge". He's a great man in the struggle and his opinion should be listened to and respected. In the same way, environmentalists should be listened to and respected. Just don't give them the keys to the armory! We'd all be dead for stepping on ants!

    • I have some friends who are strong greenies, and most of them understand that humans are going to have an impact, and what they would like to have happen are the small changes that we have from time to time such as recycling bins efforts to carpoole etc.
      However most of them also note that whatever they ask for they will only get a comprimise if they get anything at all. This is why they ask for so much.

      As my friend told me "if you want a hundred bucks, don't ask for a hundred bucks ask for a thousand, you will be stoked if you get the whole thing, but you will be satisfied if you only get a tenth of what you ask for"
      • Acutually, I am one, but of a differect stripe than most. I'm sort of a PragmatiLiberoConservatary Environmentalist. ;>

        I like to see both sides (or all fifteen, for that matter) of an issue. I then pull out the best pieces that have the most potential for producing results. I have found that most Liberals and Conservatives (at least as generally defined in the US) want the same results on most issues. They mostly disagree on the methodology.

        In the popular movements for both sides, the strongest viewpoint is usually the one that is paid for by the highest bidder. The guilty party behind the cracked methodologies is sometimes the same entity for both sides. The usual results, if either one is followed is that that entity winds up with more money, power, or both. As it is with most issues, the common citizen (those who don't have time to follow the details of a particular issue) will follow the loud voices that mostly line up with their normal viewpoint, ie: Democrat/Republican, etc... They generaly take sides on an issue in ignorance, even if it is the right one.

        Asking for more than what will do is a good methodology. In the realm of politics and public opinion, it is almost the only way to get things done. Asking for it with misleading or false data is simply fraud. FUDding things causes overreaction and oppression. It puts undue power into the government's hands. The wild-eyed greens need to keep this in mind.

        A good example of this is the 9-11 delemma. Although I generally lean with the Republicans, the steps taken against the civil rights of our citizens in the name of protection has gone way too far. This was caused by FUD. Even if I trust the current occupants of government with this power, I DO NOT TRUST THOSE WHO MAY FOLLOW!

        Overreacting or overreporting is the height of irresponsibility in a free society. Although I will fight for their right to speak, I will use truth and common sense persuasion to defeat those who lie or exagurate to get their way.

        Man, am I getting waaaay too serious or what?!

  • Haven't you always wondered how they made the black licorice nibs?...
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) [] documents all kinds of air pollution (literally) in AP-42 []. Section 13.2.1 [] addresses paved roads, and section 13.2.2 [] addresses unpaved roads.

One can't proceed from the informal to the formal by formal means.