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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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A half-million tires in Puget Sound are leeching harmful substances – here’s how to help

UPDATED: Sat., April 23, 2022

A storm begins to form April 12 over Fox Island as Landon Warren, left, of Indianapolis, and Gavin Malloy, of Parkland, Wash., look into the waters of the Puget Sound near Titlow Beach in University Place, Wash. According to According to Jim Trask, president of Washington Scuba Alliance, there are an estimated half-million tires in Puget Sound that have been leeching harmful substances into the water.  (Pete Caster/(Tacoma) News Tribune)
A storm begins to form April 12 over Fox Island as Landon Warren, left, of Indianapolis, and Gavin Malloy, of Parkland, Wash., look into the waters of the Puget Sound near Titlow Beach in University Place, Wash. According to According to Jim Trask, president of Washington Scuba Alliance, there are an estimated half-million tires in Puget Sound that have been leeching harmful substances into the water. (Pete Caster/(Tacoma) News Tribune)
By Alyse Messmer Bellingham Herald

Tires with toxic substances lurk in Washington waters, harming the wildlife and creating a problem that needs to be cleaned up.

There are an estimated half-million tires in Puget Sound that have been leeching harmful substances into the water for about 50 years, according to Jim Trask, president of Washington Scuba Alliance.

The alliance is a group of scuba divers and advocates who work with local governments and officials to create underwater preserves and protect marine life. They say they have removed 1,800 pounds of trash from Washington waters since 1992.

“It can take four to six years of steady requests for state funding for the 24 sites along the Puget Sound that have tires to be removed,” Trask said.

The nonprofit alliance uses remotely operated vehicles and sonar scanning technology to locate tires and estimate the vast number still in Washington’s waters. Locating the tires is only the first step, as removal requires construction companies and equipment. Then they need to be transported to a hazardous waste facility in Portland, according to Trask.

During the 1970s, the Washington State Department of Natural Resources says tires were used to create artificial reefs believed to be beneficial for wildlife. These tire reefs were created in Puget Sound, as well as around the world. Over time, the tire materials broke down and contaminated the waters and wildlife.

“Zinc, copper, oil-based plasticizers, paints and pigments containing zinc and titanium oxides, and, paraphenydiamines (ozone scavengers), are some of the additives leaching from the broken up tires into the water and sediments of Puget Sound. Some of these substances are known to be toxic to aquatic organisms,” the DNR statement notes.

Throughout multiple underwater clean-up projects, Washington Scuba Alliance has removed tires, creosote pilings and other toxic items that bring harmful substances into the water.

Coho salmon are particularly at risk from a newly discovered chemical in tires called 6PPD-quinone, according to researchers at the University of Washington.

The toxic chemical travels through the salmons’ circulatory systems, throughout multiple organs, their hearts and their brains.

The researchers were unsure if the chemical can cause less harmful toxic effects other than immediate death, which are more difficult to observe. They are also uncertain about the toxicity level to humans.

An interactive map of tire reefs in Puget Sound has been created by Coastal Sensing and Survey, a geophysical organization that locates and maps underwater objects.

Tire clean-ups are high priority, but creosote pilings are also releasing toxic chemicals into the waters. The DNR and the scuba alliance say those efforts are also underway.

There are ways you can help limit the harmful impact of tires on the Puget Sound and protect wildlife:

How to dispose of tires properly

Washington state residents generate about 7.7 million tires each year that need to be disposed of or recycled, according to Castle Tire Disposal and Recycling.

It is illegal to send whole tires to landfills in Washington state, so how can you safely dispose of them?

Disposal areas are available around the state and can be found by calling 1-800-RECYCLE or online at Washington Recycles.

Tires can be left at your tire dealership when you get new tires or by finding a local transfer station that accepts used tires or other tire recycling businesses.

Underwater clean-up volunteer opportunities

The Washington Scuba Alliance allows volunteers to join them to help clean up tires and other harmful materials from local waters.

On Saturday, the alliance hosted an Earth Day clean-up at Point Defiance Boathouse in Tacoma. The alliance says last year it removed 810 pounds of harmful waste from the beach and waters.

The organization hosts other volunteer opportunities year-round to protect underwater wildlife.

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