From the road to the plate: lettuce takes up toxic additives from tire wear

Chemicals from tire wear could get into our vegetables via sewage sludge and wastewater.

Wind, sewage sludge, and wastewater carry tire wear particles from roads onto farmland. A new lab study shows: The pollutants contained in the particles could get into the vegetables grown there. Researchers at the Centre for Microbiology and Environmental Systems Science (CMESS) at the University of Vienna have investigated whether chemicals released from tires find their way into lettuce plants and could ultimately end up on our plates. Their analyses showed: The lettuce took up all the compounds studied - some of them highly toxic. Further investigations are to show how this process actually takes place in arable soils. The study has now been published in the international journal Environmental Science & Technology.

Driving a car produces tire wear particles, which are blown into the environment by the wind and washed into rivers and sewage by the rain – in total, around 1 kg per citizen per year. Through the atmosphere and with the wastewater or the sewage sludge used as fertilizer in agriculture, the tire particles can reach agricultural soils. There, potentially harmful chemicals might be released from the tire into the environment. Tire wear particles and other types of microplastics contain additives, which ensure specific properties, consistencies, and the durability of these plastics. In soils, the small plastic or tire particles usually release their pollutants in the upper soil layers – this was determined in earlier studies by the research team led by environmental geoscientist Thilo Hofmann from the University of Vienna. In their current study, the researchers shed light on whether the pollutants could migrate from there into the crops. 

Read the entire article at University of Vienna 


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