Tire makers say lawsuit over fish-killing chemical sidesteps EPA


  • Lawsuit is first in U.S. to target rubber stabilizer 6PPD in tires
  • Commercial fishing groups say degraded 6PPD kills trout, salmon

(Reuters) – Michelin and 12 other tire manufacturers have asked a U.S. court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by California-based commercial fishing groups that allege a chemical used in their tires is poisoning West Coast watersheds and killing rare trout and salmon.

The tire manufactures, which also include Bridgestone and Goodyear Tire & Rubber, told a federal court in San Francisco on Friday that the lawsuit attempts to “step around” the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, which is the country’s primary regulator of chemicals and is already considering rules targeting 6PPD, a rubber stabilizer.

The Institute for Fisheries Resources and the Pacific Coast Federation of Fishermen’s Associations had said in their November lawsuit that the chemical, which becomes toxic when it degrades, is released from tires as vehicles drive around and park. The degraded chemical can be flushed into waterways during storms, where it kills protected salmon and trout.

The groups said that violates a provision of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) that prohibits parties from incidentally harming or killing protected animals or plants without first obtaining federal approvals.

But in Friday’s filing, the tire manufacturers said those prohibitions do not apply to chemicals additives in consumer products that pose a threat “years later, in distant locations and following extensive use and degradation of those products.”

Elizabeth Forsyth, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in a statement Monday that the chemical’s alleged harms to protected fish are exactly the kind of thing the ESA is intended to stop. There is “no legal reason” why the law wouldn’t apply in the case, she said.

6PPD is found in nearly every tire on the planet, according to the plaintiffs, and is used to help keep rubber from breaking down.

Together, the 13 tire manufacturers sued account for 80% of the domestic U.S. tire market, according to the lawsuit.

The fishing groups claim the chemicals have contributed to declining fish populations that have led to restrictions on access to fishing waters, including the suspension of the 2023 California commercial salmon fishing season.

The lawsuit, the first in the U.S. to target tire manufacturers over 6PPD, seeks an injunction barring the companies from manufacturing tires with the chemical without first taking measures to protect fish and watersheds.

Days before the lawsuit was filed, the EPA announced it would take steps to regulate the chemical. The EPA said exposure to the chemical can kill fish within a few hours.

In July, California’s Department of Toxic Substances Control adopted a rule requiring tire manufacturers to evaluate safer alternatives to 6PPD, noting the threat to certain salmon.

The case is Institute for Fisheries Resources et al v. Bridgestone Americas Tire Operations et al, in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, case NO. 3:23-cv-05748

For the fishing groups: Elizabeth Forsyth and Janette Brimmer of Earthjustice

For the tire companies: George Gigounas and Gwendolyn Keyes Fleming of DLA Piper, and Susan Smith of Beveridge & Diamond

Reporting by Clark Mindock