The Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) today notified U.S. tire manufacturers of their intent to sue over the use of a chemical called 6PPD in rubber tires because of its devastating impacts on Endangered Species Act (ESA)-protected salmon and steelhead. When 6PPD reacts with ground-level ozone, it breaks down into 6PPD-q — the second most toxic chemical to aquatic species ever evaluated by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Exposure to 6PPD-q can kill coho salmon within hours, and the chemical is responsible for “urban runoff mortality syndrome,” which kills up to 100% of coho returning to spawn in many urban streams.
6PPD-q is also highly toxic to other species of salmon such as Chinook, which are vitally important for ocean harvests and which once supported tens of thousands of commercial salmon fishing west coast jobs. California’s entire salmon fleet has been thrown out of work this year because too few salmon have been surviving as juveniles in the state’s rivers, many of which are now polluted by 6PPD-q from urban runoff. Very low coho numbers also legally restrict commercial salmon harvesters from access to more abundant Chinook fisheries, and thus severely limit their catch.
“This chemical kills the coho salmon that we need to restore damaged coho runs that were once abundant,” said IFR/PCFFA Executive Director Glen Spain. “Coho salmon, which can no longer be harvested given their extremely low numbers, are already on the brink of extinction and 6PPD use in tires has now been revealed as a major driver of these losses.”
The fishing industry groups plan to bring an enforcement action under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act against 13 of the largest U.S. tire manufacturers, including Goodyear, Michelin, and Bridgestone. The 60-day notice of intent states that using 6PPD in tires is imperiling the recovery of 24 populations of coho, Chinook salmon, and steelhead that are listed as endangered or threatened under the federal Endangered Species Act. Tire manufacturers’ use of 6PPD generates ongoing, ubiquitous contamination of surface waters near roads with 6PPD-q, harming coho and Chinook salmon, steelhead, and many other fish and aquatic species.
“By continuing to use 6PPD in tires, companies are killing critically imperiled salmon and other fish protected under the Endangered Species Act,” said Elizabeth Forsyth, senior attorney for Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program. “These tire companies have known for years that 6PPD is devastating to aquatic species, but they have thus far failed to remove this dangerous chemical from tires. The industry needs to ensure that their tires are not accelerating the collapse of our salmon fishery.”
Salmon and steelhead are keystone species that support entire ecosystems. At least 135 other species depend on salmon and steelhead for food, including southern resident orca whales, eagles, bears, wolves, and seals. Robust salmon stocks are also important to the national economy, once supporting an estimated 16,000 jobs in the west coast’s commercial and recreational fishing industry.
Tire manufacturers have used 6PPD since the 1950s to keep tires from degrading too quickly. At the tire’s surface, 6PPD interacts with ozone to create several transformation products, including 6PPD-q. 6PPD-q is then picked up during storm events and discharged into nearby waterways. The chemical is not only present in stormwater runoff and urban watersheds, but also in sediments and soils, household dust, and even human urine. Emerging science has pointed to toxicity in mammals, indicating a potential risk to human health. There are a number of potential alternatives to the use of 6PPD in tires that are far less toxic.
Earthjustice sent today’s notice of intent on behalf of the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) and the Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR). PCFFA is the west coast’s largest trade association of commercial fishing families, and IFR, PCFFA’s sister organization, works on behalf of those fishing families and their coastal communities to protect and maintain sustainable ocean fisheries, including California’s once-abundant salmon fisheries.