How to Reduce Harmful Exposure to Burning Tyre Fumes

You’ve probably come across the scene: a pile of tyres burning in the road, stopping you from going on your way and giving off thick smoke. This is a highly effective protest tactic that has played a large role in the current demonstrations in Iraq.

Despite its usefulness in current protests, it’s important to be aware that the fumes given off by these burning tyres can also have an affect on your health. To help you stay as healthy as possible during the demonstrations, we’ve outlined a few simple things below which you can do to reduce the risk of harm from exposure to burning tyre fumes.

What are tyres actually made of?

In order to understand the effects of tyre smoke on the human body, you need to know what tyres are actually made of. Their main component is rubber, but there are also parts made of steel and textiles (1). When burned, lots of different chemicals are released in the smoke, including sulphur dioxide, chlorine fumes and carbon monoxide. If inhaled in large enough amounts, these chemicals can cause:

  • Breathing difficulties
  • Irritation to the eyes
  • Irritation to the nose and throat
  • Death (if you have inhaled large enough amounts of carbon monoxide)

In the longer term, exposure to tyre smoke has been shown to increase the likelihood of developing cancer and lung disease (2). These effects are usually mostly seen in people who work with tyres and are exposed to their burning fumes on a daily basis for a prolonged period of time. Despite this, steps should still be taken to minimise any sort of exposure to these proven harmful chemicals. This is particularly important if you suffer from heart or lung problems such as asthma, are pregnant or are aged under 18 or over 65 (3).

How can you protect your health around burning tyres?

So, now we’ve established that the fumes and smoke from burning tyres are harmful, what should you do to protect yourself and reduce the amount of exposure?

White smoke against a black background.

Avoid the fumes as much as possible

Try to avoid going to areas where you know there are, or have recently had, burning tyres present. Try to take an alternative route if you can, and allow extra time for travelling.

The side mirror of an old fashioned car.

If you are in a car, do not roll your windows down

To prevent being exposed to the fumes, do not roll down your windows or stop the car to investigate the fire. This increases the amount of smoke that you could inhale, and therefore increases the chance of it affecting your health.

A child looking outside of the house through the shutters

If you are in your house or workplace, keep your windows and doors closed

You should also try to spend as little time as possible outside to reduce your exposure to the fumes. Ensure that you alert others around you, and encourage people and pets to find shelter inside the building, away from the fumes.

A woman wearing a black headscarf and touching her face.

If you do breathe in smoke, be prepared for the side effects

The side effects from inhaling burning tyre smoke can take up to 36 hours to develop, and can include breathing difficulty, coughing, and irritation of the eyes, nose and throat (1). If your symptoms start to become severe, or if they do not seem to improve once you have moved away from the smoke, you should seek professional medical help.

A woman with blue eyes wearing a black balaclava.

Wear a professional dust mask if you can access it

Unfortunately, thin face masks or those made of fabric won’t stop the chemicals in the tyre smoke from entering your body. If you do have to spend time outside near the tyres, try to get access to a professional dust mask which will help protect you.

A young girl wearing goggles on her head.

Wear goggles

If you have to be around the burning tyres, you should also wear goggles to help stop the smoke irritating your eyes.

All of these tips are relatively straightforward and most are easy to put into practice. They may seem obvious, but doing some of these things may help to decrease the amount of toxic tyre fumes that you inhale and in turn, reduce the detrimental effects on your health. Although It may seem inconvenient to alter your plans or stay inside, the long term benefit to your health is much more valuable. You can also help others by informing them of the possible harm caused by tyre smoke and how they can avoid being harmed by the smoke.

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  1. Victorian Health Priorities Framework 2012–2022: Metropolitan Health Plan. Accessed from:  https://www2.health.vic.gov.au › Api › downloadmedia 
  2. Elaw.org. (2020). Health impacts of open burning of used (scrap) tires and potential solutions (science memo) | ELAW. [online] Available at: https://www.elaw.org/content/health-impacts-open-burning-used-scrap-tires-and-potential-solutions-science-memo [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
  3. Schwarcz, J. (2018). Should there be any concern about working in an environment with continuous exposure to “new tire smell?”. [online] Office for Science and Society. Available at: https://www.mcgill.ca/oss/article/you-asked/should-there-be-any-concern-about-working-environment-continuous-exposure-new-tire-smell [Accessed 30 Jan. 2020].
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