California Fishermen File Pollution Lawsuit Against Tire Manufacturers

Two California-based fishing organizations are suing U.S. tire manufacturers over allegations that the use of the chemical 6PPD in rubber tires is largely responsible for “urban runoff mortality syndrome,” which kills up to 100% of coho salmon returning to spawn in many urban streams.

The environmental law firm Earthjustice is representing the Institute for Fisheries Resources (IFR) and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations (PCFFA) in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.

 The 13 tire manufacturers named in the litigation include Bridgestone; Continental Tire; Giti Tire; Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co.; Cooper Tire & Rubber Co.; Hankook Tire America Corp.; Kumho Tire USA; Michelin North America; Nokian Tyres; Pirelli Tire North America; Sumitomo Rubber North America.; Toyo Tire Holdings of Americas, and Yokohama Tire Corp.

The U.S. Tire Manufacturers Association (USTMA) responded, saying that the association is aware of the lawsuit and that as a matter of policy it does not comment on ongoing litigation.

“Our members continue to research and develop alternative tire materials that ensure tire performance and do not compromise safety, consistent with our industry’s commitment to sustainability and respect for the environment,” the USTMA statement said.

Glen Spain, executive director of IFR and PCFFA, said the plaintiffs are willing to work with the tire companies to find alternative materials that are less toxic to salmon and steelhead, but that the status quo is not acceptable.

“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,” Spain said. “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.”

Earthjustice attorneys noted that 6PPD-q is also toxic to other species of salmon, including Chinook, which support tens of thousands of commercial salmon fishing West Coast jobs. California’s entire salmon fleet has been thrown out of work this year because too few salmon have been surviving as juveniles in the state’s rivers, many of which are polluted by 6PPD-q from urban runoff, the litigants said.

The lawsuit came in the wake of a Nov. 2 announcement by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of its intent to publish an advanced notice of rulemaking under the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) to gather information potentially to ban use of 6PPD in tires if the substance is found to be lethal to coho salmon.

That decision was in conjunction with the EPA’s decision to grant a petition submitted in August by the Yurok Tribe in California and the Port Gamble S’Klallam Tribe and the Puyallup Tribe of Indians, both of Washington state.

The chemical has been used in motor vehicle tires for more than six decades to make them more durable. It also can be found in other rubber products such as footwear, synthetic turf infill and playgrounds.

Plaintiff attorney Elizabeth Forsyth of Earthjustice’s Biodiversity Defense Program said manufacturers have known for years that they must invest in viable alternatives, and it is time for these companies to be held accountable for the devastating impact 6PPD-q has had on fisheries.

The plaintiffs brought their litigation under Section 9 of the Endangered Species Act.

A recently released federal study confirms that exposure to a chemical in tire dust that enters water bodies via stormwater runoff is causing coho salmon to die.