Chemical from tyres linked to mass salmon deaths in US found in Australia for first time

21 March 2022

Dr Cassie Rauert, UQ Queensland Alliance for Environmental Health Sciences Research Fellow spoke with The Guardian about finding 6PPD-quinone in a Queensland creek and call for urgent research to see if local aquatic life was harmed.

A toxic chemical released from tyres as they wear down on roads and implicated in mass deaths of salmon in the United States has been found in an Australian waterway for the first time.

University of Queensland scientists took water samples from the middle of Cubberla Creek beside Brisbane’s M5 motorway after four storms in late 2020 and published their results in a journal.

Levels of 6PPD-quinone in the creek, which feeds into the Brisbane River, peaked at concentrations comparable to those found to be killing Seattle’s salmon.

As much as 700kg of tiny tyre particles, up to 0.2mm wide and some much smaller, were estimated to wash off the roads and into the catchment after each storm.

Study lead author, Dr Rauert said they found elevated levels of the chemical for two days after storms.

“The aquatic species living there are going to be exposed [to the chemical] over this period. The amount of tyre wear we found was also very surprising.

“We have no idea of the effect of these particles or if fish are ingesting them. There are so many unknowns in this field. We should be worried, but we need to know more.”

Dr Rauert and colleagues are planning to take samples at other sites throughout Queensland, including catchments flowing into the Great Barrier Reef.

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