(CN) — Chemicals from car tires have leached into rivers and other waterways along the West Coast, killing protected fish and causing California to cancel this year's commercial fishing season, according to claims made by a conservation group and a fishing trade association in a lawsuit filed in federal court on Wednesday.
In their suit filed in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations claim that the 13 largest car tire manufacturers in the U.S. — including Bridgestone America, Goodyear Tires, and Michelin North America — make or distribute products that contain an additive called 6PPD. That chemical ultimately transforms into 6PPD-quinone.
As the tire interacts with the environment and roads, 6PPD-quinone leaches onto hard surfaces. When it rains, the chemical falls into rivers and other waterways, where it kills protected and endangered fish species like coho salmon, steelhead trout, and Chinook salmon, the lawsuit claims.
The chemical is particularly destructive to salmon because they swim upstream and inland to their birthplaces to reproduce. Once there, they can be exposed to stormwater containing 6PPD-quinone.
After exposure, fish start displaying symptoms of urban runoff mortality syndrome, causing them to lose equilibrium and die within a few hours. Even if they’re transferred to non-polluted water before they die, they don’t recover from the syndrome, the lawsuit adds.
Scientists have shown that waterways across the West Coast, including Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, already contain toxic concentrations of 6PPD-quinone, the lawsuit says.
The plaintiffs claim that the tire companies use of the chemical additive is in violation of the Endangered Species Act, which prevents the illegal taking, harassment, harm, or killing of protected species.
“There is simply no excuse, now that the science is clear how toxic 6PPD-q is to fish, for the tire industry to keep using 6PPD,” wrote Glen Spain, executive director of the Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations, in a news release. “To keep using a chemical not only pushing valuable salmon runs toward extinction but also destroying fishing-dependent jobs up and down the west coast should not be allowed.”
The environmental groups are being represented by Earthjustice, a nonprofit that bills itself as the country's "premier nonprofit public interest environmental law organization." In their complaint, the plaintiffs claim that so few salmon have survived in California’s rivers because of 6PPD-quinone pollution that state regulators not only had to restrict access to productive salmon fishing spots — they also had to suspend commercial fishing for the species altogether this year.
The deaths of the salmon and steelhead not only affect people’s jobs in the fishing industry but also other protected animals. Killer whales, as well as hundreds of other creatures, rely on the fish as their main food source.
The chemical additive’s possible toxicity to humans could also be a problem. According to one recent study citing the lawsuit, "6PPD-q can cross the placenta blood barrier and enter the developing embryo and brain, raising risk of developmental abnormalities or birth defects."
The groups involved in the case are asking the court to declare that the tire companies are violating the Endangered Species Act and to prohibit them from continuing to harm coho and Chinook salmon and steelhead trout.
The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association, the national trade organization that includes the defendants in the case, said they are aware of the lawsuit and they do not comment on ongoing litigation.
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