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Tire-wear particles as a source of zinc to the environment

January 1, 2004

Tire-tread material has a zinc (Zn) content of about 1 wt %. The quantity of tread material lost to road surfaces by abrasion has not been well characterized. Two approaches were used to assess the magnitude of this nonpoint source of Zn in the U.S. for the period 1936−1999. In the first approach, tread-wear rates from the automotive engineering literature were used in conjunction with vehicle distance-driven data from the U.S. Department of Transportation to determine Zn releases. A second approach calculated this source term from the volume of tread lost during lifetime tire wear. These analyses showed that the quantity of Zn released by tire wear in the mid-1990s was of the same magnitude as that released from waste incineration. For 1999, the quantity of Zn released by tire wear in the U.S. is estimated to be 10 000−11 000 metric tons. A specific case study focused on Zn sources and sinks in an urban−suburban watershed (Lake Anne) in the Washington, DC, metropolitan area for a time period of the late 1990s. The atmospheric flux of total Zn (wet deposition) to the watershed was 2 μg/cm2/yr. The flux of Zn to the watershed estimated from tire wear was 42 μg/cm2/yr. The measured accumulation rate of total Zn in age-dated sediment cores from Lake Anne was 27 μg/cm2/yr. These data suggest that tire-wear Zn inputs to urban−suburban watersheds can be significantly greater than atmospheric inputs, although the watershed appears to retain appreciable quantities of vehicular Zn inputs.