Are toxins from road runoff a threat to salmon in Anchorage’s most popular fishing streams?

A Go Fund Me campaign has been launched so Alaskans can chip in to find out. A deadly compound in tires has been newly identified by researchers at the University of Washington.

“The little flakes that rub off of tires, especially larger truck tires, can be transported in the stream via stormwater. And they leach out the compounds that they found out was highly toxic to salmon. And they were specifically looking at coho salmon.”  

Birgit Hagedorn is a geochemist and a board member of the Anchorage Waterways Council. She is trying to raise $5,500 to test the waters that run off the Seward and Glenn Highways into salmon streams like Ships Creek and Campbell Creek. She already has samples of snow melt in her freezer to send to testing labs. More samples will be taken this summer.

“So the first really big rain event, we want to go out and sample again. And so we provide the sampling and the labor and we don’t  take some money for that. The fundraiser is really just to pay for the analysis, because it’s relatively complicated. And it takes up to $500 for one sample.”   

Hagedorn says little is known about the deadly compound called quinone that is used by tire manufacturers to make the rubber more durable.

“How long does it actually last in water? What is the degradation rate? Can it be absorbed? So those are really variable research studies that could be put in place to understand this compound better.” 

Her hope is to partner with the Anchorage municipality and the state university to advance further studies and eventually get tire makers to stop using the toxic compound.

That’s been the case in Washington state where a Better Brakes law passed in 2010 phases out copper from brakes completely by 2025 to protect salmon from road runoff. Washington also strongly encourages grassy alternatives to drains and pipes that let road runoff percolate through the ground as it did before urban areas were paved over.

Meanwhile, studies like Hagedorn’s highlight just how little is known about impacts of compounds in a watery mix of automotive byproducts that runoff from roads into adjacent waters.

“But to know what’s out there – I think that’s an important first step.”

Alaskans can pitch in to find out.

Find links to the Go Fund Me screening for the emerging toxin to salmon campaign here