Dear Tom and Ray - According to the book "50 Simple Things You Can Do to Save the Earth," every two weeks Americans wear almost 50 million pounds of rubber off their tires, enough to make more than 3 million new tires from scratch.
Now, I dodge pieces of blown semitrailer tire every day on the interstate, but I don't think that's what they're referring to. They're talking about normal wear. I'd really like to know what happens to all that worn rubber. Is it embedded in the roadway in microscopic pieces, or does it gas-off into thin air? And is it harmful to the environment? - Victor
RAY: That's a very good question, isn't it, Victor? That's a lot of rubber. And you don't see it on the road (except near high schools, where teenage boys peel out). So where is it going?
TOM: Well, it turns out that this is one of the great mysteries of the late 20th century.
RAY: We talked to the Rubber Division of the American Chemical Society. They confirmed that researchers really don't know exactly what happens to the rubber that comes off tires.
TOM: They told us an early concern was that it was coming off in a gaseous state - as air pollution. But all the research they've seen indicates that very little of the tire ends up in the air. And the amount that does represents much less of a pollution threat than the stuff that comes out of tailpipes.
RAY: Their best guess is that the majority of the rubber - which comes off in very small particles - ends up on or by the side of the road. And that it is broken down naturally, or converted back into the natural carbon cycle by oxidation, photoexcitation and enzyme catalysis - a.k.a."nature."
TOM: A German study recently said that not all tire residue disappears. It found that several pounds of heavy metals from tires are found by the side of highways each year. But that study is being disputed.
RAY: So what can you do about tires if you want to "save the Earth"? I'd say you'd be best off encouraging the development of technologies that recycle used tires that come off of cars. That represents far more rubber than what's being left by the side of the road.
Dear Tom and Ray - Since I entered graduate school in California, my two dogs have been homesick for the mountains of Nevada near Lake Tahoe. I told my dad I would give him my 1984, 140,000-miles Subaru if he would also take the two dogs. Do you think I made a good deal, or did my dad again come out ahead? - Carolyn
TOM: Well, if your dad likes dogs he came out ahead, Carolyn.
RAY: Because in this deal, he got three of them.
TOM: Well, you asked for it, and here it is. My brother and I sat down and wrote down everything we know about how to make your car last forever.
RAY: And it only came out to eight lousy pages!
TOM: But now this gold mine of information can be yours.
RAY: Get your copy of "Ten Ways You May Be Ruining Your Car Without Even Knowing It!" by sending $3 and a stamped (52 cents), self-addressed, No.10 envelope to Ruin No.1, PO Box 6420, Riverton, NJ 08077-6420.