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Studded tires bad for environment, too

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EcoThoughts • Pitted roads mean more oil is needed for extra asphalt


by: L.E. BASKOW/PAMPLIN MEDIA GROUP FILE PHOTO - Only 10 percent of Oregon drivers use studded tires west of the Cascades, yet it is believed they cut road life by 50 percent.
Studded tires have bothered me for years.

Driving on ruts, road noise, dangerous hydroplaning and the costs to repair the roads are all concerns of mine.

As a citizen activist, I contacted my legislator and the Oregon Department of Transportation, but didn’t receive any justifiable answers to why studded tires are still legal.

Studded tires were banned in Minnesota in the 1970s. If any state has winter weather, Minnesota does.

According to an Oregon legislative fact sheet, only 10 percent of drivers use studded tires west of the Cascades, yet they cut road life by 50 percent. The more research I did, the more I learned it is more than just ruts and money, it’s about the environment.

Asphalt is made from oil. If road life is cut in half, that means we’re drilling, transporting and refining twice as much oil when studded tires are used. During its lifespan, the average studded tire chews up one-half to three-fourths of a ton of asphalt, according to the Washington State Department of Transportation. That results in a fine dust that gets in the air, on the land and, eventually, is washed into the rivers and oceans.

A Swedish study found that the toxic dust created by studded tires is 60 to 100 greater than the amount from regular tires. Tests have shown the dust to be the size that can lodge in your lungs. “These particles can also have an inflammatory and toxic effect,” says Doug Brugge, professor of public health and community medicine at Tufts School of Medicine in Boston.

Stockholm air contains higher levels of harmful PM10 particles — tiny ones that are 1 to 10 micrometers — than Los Angeles. The cause is studded tires.

Japan banned studded tires in 1990 because of the toxic dust that was created. That’s when Bridgestone Tire developed the Blizzak, an all-weather snow and ice tire that grips without the use of studs. An Alaska study reported that the Blizzak outperformed studded tires in a wider range of winter driving conditions.

Nearly everyone I met who has switched to the studless snow tire says they would never go back to using studded tires. They say they felt safer.

Climate change is the biggest reason I pursued a 2012 ballot initiative to ban studded tires. Consuming and using a limited and expensive resource like oil will have negative consequences both for the environment and state budgets. Studies have shown that gas mileage is reduced on a rough road versus a smooth road. Tire life is reduced from driving on a rough road, too.

This is a carbon footprint issue.

Studded-tire users claim their safety is most important. I agree. Driving on rain-filled ruts is dangerous year round.

The Washington State Department of Transportation estimates that the need for studded tires is for only 1 percent of driving conditions. That doesn’t justify driving for five months with studded tires for what equates to a couple of days a year. Driving slower during wintery conditions could solve that safety issue.

Spending money to pay for roads has its own carbon footprint that needs to be considered when evaluating the impact of studded tires. Everything we do comes down that road: jobs, food and consumer goods. Until that changes, it’s in all our interest to protect that valuable infrastructure.

In 1996, an Oregon State University study suggested a ban first, then suggested a $140 fee to lessen the burden on the 84 percent of Oregonians who don’t use studded tires. My feeling is that with the advent of modern snow and ice tires, studded tires are obsolete.

Jeff Bernards of Portland plans to lobby the Legislature to ban studded tires or enact a $140 fee for using them. His 2012 initiative campaign failed to gather enough signatures to make the ballot.