Burning rubber

By Fred Pearce CAR tyres rather than exhausts are the main source of a notorious air pollutant that kills thousands every year, warn advisers to the Swedish government. Jan Ahlbom and Ulf Duus say that wear and tear on tyres releases about 40 000 tonnes of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons across Europe each year. These PAHs, in the form of tiny airborne particles called PM10s, may cause cancer. Scientists also blame PM10s for 10 000 premature deaths in Britain each year from lung and heart disease. Environmental watchdogs assumed that vehicle exhausts were the main source of PAH pollution. But in a report for the Swedish National Chemicals Inspectorate in Stockholm, Ahlbom and Duus reveal that the beneficial effects of catalytic converters have made tyres the key source of PAHs from traffic. “This is a new one on us,” says Paul Johnston, who heads a chemical analysis unit at the University of Exeter. “The PAHs would appear to be a component in the heavy oils used to make the tyres.” Ahlbom says some Scandinavian tyre manufacturers have switched to safer oils. He is calling for a continent-wide ban on PAHs in tyres. Britain’s Department for the Environment, Transport and the Regions says it is taking note of the report,
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