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Scientist to testify to U.S. congressional panel on salmon-killing tire chemical

Jen McIntyre wearing waders as she stands in Longfellow Creek.
Jen McIntyre at Longfellow Creek. Credit: Bob Hubner/ WSU

Washington State University scientist Jenifer McIntyre will testify before members of Congress on research linking a chemical found in tires to the die-off of endangered salmon.

An assistant professor at WSU’s School of the Environment, McIntyre studies urban runoff and its effects on aquatic animals, including salmon. She is one of several experts set to testify virtually Thursday, July 15, before members of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, which is probing scientific evidence that a chemical found in car tires, playground surfaces, and other sources plays a role in the massive death of coho salmon.

McIntyre was part of a team of scientists, led by the University of Washington, who identified the chemical culprit: 6PPD‑quinone, a molecule related to a preservative in tires. Rain washes the chemical into streams, where it kills coho. The team’s research was published last December in Science.

Lawmakers will discuss the challenge and possible remedies Thursday, as well as how to best protect impacted endangered species.

“I’m looking forward to the opportunity to share this important issue with members of Congress, in order to continue our efforts to protect aquatic animals from harmful environmental pollutants,” said McIntyre, who continues to study the effects of the molecule on fish.

Coho returning to Puget Sound every autumn are an important food source for many animals, including endangered Southern Resident Killer Whales. Prior research by McIntyre and other collaborators revealed that salmon exposed to toxic stormwater runoff can die in a matter of hours.

“Every coho that dies in our polluted urban watersheds before it gets a chance to spawn means less eggs, fewer fry, and fewer returning fish to feed hungry orcas,” she said.

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