Frank Sommer1, Volker Dietze2, Anja Baum3, Jan Sauer3, Stefan Gilge2, Christoph Maschowski1, Reto Gieré 4

Institute for Geo- and Environmental Natural Sciences, Freiburg University, 79104 Freiburg, Germany
Air Quality Department, Research Center Human Biometeorology, German Meteorological Service, 79104 Freiburg, Germany
Federal Highway Research Institute, 51427 Bergisch Gladbach, Germany
Department of Earth and Environmental Science, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6316, USA

Received: March 17, 2018
Revised: June 22, 2018
Accepted: June 24, 2018
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Cite this article:
Sommer, F., Dietze, V., Baum, A., Sauer, J., Gilge, S., Maschowski, C. and Gieré, R. (2018). Tire Abrasion as a Major Source of Microplastics in the Environment. Aerosol Air Qual. Res. 18: 2014-2028.


  • Microplastic from tires turns up everywhere and is a potential environmental hazard.
  • Over 90% of the super-coarse particles on busy roads are tire, road and brake wear.
  • No PM10-80 tire-core particle without road-dust contamination was found on the roads.
  • Tire-wear particles accumulate a varying amount of road dust encrustment.
  • Traffic speed, traffic mode and traffic fleet determine particle size of brake wear.


Traffic-related non-exhaust particulate matter mainly consists of tire wear, brake wear, and road wear. For this study, passive-samplers were placed near highly frequented roads in industrial, agricultural, and urban environments with the aim of collecting and characterizing super-coarse (> 10 µm) airborne particles. Single-particle analysis using SEM-EDX was conducted on more than 500 particles with nearly 1500 spectra to determine their size, shape, volume, and chemical composition. The ambient aerosol near all studied roads is dominated by traffic-related abrasion particles, amounting to approximately 90 vol%. The majority of the particles were composites of tire-, road-, and brake-abrasion material. The particle assemblages differed in size distribution, composition, and structure depending on driving speed, traffic flow, and traffic fleet. Our study documents that tire wear significantly contributes to the flux of microplastics into the environment. A decrease in the release of this abrasion material, however, is unlikely in the near future.

Keywords: Microplastics; Tire wear; Road wear; Brake wear; SEM-EDX analysis; Chemical composition.


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