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Are Tires Toxic to Animals?

Tires Toxic to Animals

In today’s social landscape, people are becoming more and more concerned about their environmental impact. It seems like every decision we make and every product we buy has ripple effects that flow through society and the world in general. This newfound cultural awareness of the importance of our consumer choices is a good thing. It helps us move forward and grow as a society. But, it can get confusing when you’re trying to learn about so many different things. One question that gets frequently asked on the internet is: are tires toxic to animals?

This question matters to a lot of people because tires are often re-used, repurposed, or recycled for many different purposes. Some people may simply be concerned about how their tires might affect animals in a landfill, while others are worried about the health of their pets. Since tires don’t decompose easily, old ones are often used to make beds, little houses, or toys for cats and dogs. And don’t forget, humans are animals too. If you think tires are toxic to animals, would you let your child play on the old tire swing your grandfather put up in the backyard?

People are hoping to find the answers to questions like these to ensure they make the best decisions for themselves, their pets, and the environment. In today’s article, we examine whether or not tires are toxic to animals.

What Chemicals Are In Tires?

In order to find out if tires are toxic to animals, it’s important to know what chemicals are in tires and if they have the potential to be toxic. The list of chemicals that make up the composition of tires includes:

  • Natural rubber
  • Synthetic rubber compounds, including Butadiene—known carcinogen
  • Solvents: Benzene—a known carcinogen, Styrene—anticipated to be carcinogenic, Toluene—has negative health effects, Xylene—irritant, & Petroleum naphtha
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons: Phenols—some are endocrine-disruptive, Benzo(a)pyrene—linked to cancer
  • Heavy metals: Zinc, chromium, nickel, lead, copper & cadmium
  • Carbon black—possibly carcinogenic
  • Vulcanizing agents: Sulphur & zinc oxide
  • Polychlorinated biphenyls—known carcinogen
  • Other synthetic chemicals

As you can see from the list above, there are many toxic chemicals in tires. Many of them are even known carcinogens! But if tires have such toxic, even cancerous, materials, why aren’t we all getting sick from them? We’re around tires all the time. These harmful chemicals largely don’t have a profound effect on our health because they are locked into the tires... for the most part.

The harmful chemicals can seep out of the tire over long periods of time. The question is, how slow is the release of the toxins and how much of them can cause health problems for animals? Unfortunately, there needs to be more research to determine the exact answers to these questions.

Tires Toxic to Animals

Stray Cat Shelters

If you’re anything like most people, you’ve spent way too much time browsing the internet looking at cats. You may have noticed that there’s a trend going on that involves people making DIY cat shelters out of old tires. These are a cute and simple way to give stray cats a home while simultaneously keeping old tires from being thrown into a landfill. While some people think these are harmless, others claim they can be toxic to the cats.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency in the United States, “benzene, mercury, styrene-butadiene, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, and arsenic, among several other chemicals, heavy metals and carcinogens, have been found in tires. Studies have found that crumb rubber can emit gases that can be inhaled.”

Perhaps tire shelters pose no immediate risk to the health of stray cats. But, if they permanently live in one, they could likely breathe in the toxins as they slowly release over time.

Aquatic Animals

Of all the animals that are at risk of being harmed by the toxic chemicals in tires, aquatic animals are the most vulnerable. As was mentioned earlier, we know that tires contain various cancerous or otherwise toxic chemicals, but they don’t pose a huge risk because they stay trapped within the tire for the most part. That’s a whole different story for animals that live in water.

In the list of toxic substances above, one of note is the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. This substance is one of the core ingredients in high aromatic oil used in rubber as a softener and a filler. Many of the toxic chemicals found in tires, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, in particular, are water-soluble. Meaning they can leach into water and affect the organisms that live there, affecting many animals.

Any tires that get carelessly dumped in the ocean will leak out their toxins at a much faster rate than one that’s lying around in your garage. Sadly, throwing tires directly into our water systems isn’t the only way a tire’s toxins can contaminate the water table. If you’ve spent any time at all driving or walking down a street, you’ll be familiar with the black streaks that get left on the pavement when a car accelerates too quickly or slams on the breaks. Commonly referred to as tire marks, these also contain harmful toxins.

When it rains, the water-soluble chemicals flow off the pavement and into the ground where they enter the water cycle. Many aquatic animals absorb chemicals through their gills and bodies, making them extra susceptible to the dangers of toxic tires.

Fortunately, many tire manufacturers are moving away from using high aromatic oil in their tires. This change will go a long way in reducing the amount of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that will leak into the environment. Of course, there are still other dangerous toxins in tires, but any step in the right direction is progress and should be celebrated.


Determining the level of toxic harm done to animals from tires is not a simple one. It will take many more years of research to get all the answers. However, we do know that tires contain various toxic chemicals that can seep out over time. Depending on how a tire was disposed of can have a major impact on how it affects animals, but if a firm answer is required: yes, tires can be toxic to animals.

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