Rubber represents a significant amount of the plastic pollution found in our environment, with 17 million tons of pneumatic waste produced every year, some of which inevitably finds its way to rivers and coastal areas. Rubber products and waste have specific chemical signatures and can release potentially toxic molecules directly into these environments.
We want to gain a better understanding of the impact plastic pollution on aquatic ecosystems and research is ongoing with project partners on both sides of the Channel.
For this experiment, research partners Ifremer and the CNRS studied the chemical toxicity of three types of rubber objects representing potential sources of contamination:
- Granules from the recycling of tires to produce synthetic sports fields
- Rubber bands used in oyster farming
The different objects (new or used) were immersed for two weeks in seawater to recover the chemical compounds released. Overall, the newer objects tested had the highest toxicological signatures, potentially due to higher levels of additives compared to used objects which may have released their additives into the environment during their previous use.
We found the three types of object in their ‘new’ form emitted chemical compounds reducing the embryonic development success of the Pacific oyster. This is an emblematic species found along the French coast, which actively participates in the stability of coastal ecosystems. It should be noted that the strongest effects were observed during exposures to chemical compounds emitted by new rubber bands, commonly used in oyster farming.
These compounds also decreased the survival of the oyster’s spermatozoa, in so doing reducing successful fertilization. Additional analyses must be carried out to assess the risk of these different rubber objects on the marine environment. But as a precaution, this study suggests that developments within the aquaculture industry to produce safer rubber objects, and that putting effective measures in place to limit rubber waste reaching the marine environment is a necessity.
This is a summary of the a paper written by Kevin Tallec and the research teams from French partners Ifremer and the CNRS.
The study has been published in the Journal for Hazardous Materials and is available to read in full here