It’s a story as old as the story of human progress.

A new discovery or innovation heralded for its efficacy is suspected to have harmful effects that require ingenuity on the part of researchers to find an antidote to the unintended causes.

I consider it compelling news as a journalist and angler that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced in a Nov. 2 release that it is addressing a petition from multiple tribes of northwest U.S. Native American tribes petitioning to tackle the troubling effects of an ever-present chemical commonly abbreviated as 6PPD. The chemical has commonly been used for years to fortify automobile tires and to prevent degradation and cracking.

The EPA’s Office of Chemical Safety and Pollution Prevention confirmed that the threat from 6PPD goes hand-in-glove with other reasons for the troubling decreases in salmon population hurting the state’s economy, and also tribal cultural, economic and food security. Verified tests of stormwater in the Pacific Northwest showed 6PPD concentrations in stormwater to be lethal in merely a matter of hours. While more controlled studies in Alaska linking salmon deaths with 6PPD-quinine are needed, research by Anchorage geochemist Birgit Hagedorn confirmed alarming amounts of the byproduct in two Anchorage-area creeks.

My particular question that I hope this EPA addressing of 6PPD can answer is whether researchers in Indiana and other states (as well as in all countries that permit tires with 6 PPD on the road) will be able to link it to the too-frequent fish kills we see or read about in the news. I once personally walked a riverbank at Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area and observed hundreds of dead and gasping fish in the shallows.

While I know it is crucial to study more verifiable scientific evidence prior to me taking a full editorial stand, I do stand in unity with affected Native tribes who want a return of the abundant coho salmon runs enjoyed by their ancestors. The urgency, where the rubber meets the road, is for EPA to determine just how much a once-heralded innovation plays a part in salmon depletion.


Nuwer, a former Randolph County resident, is writing full-time as he completes a biography of Kurt Vonnegut in Fairbanks, Alaska. He has also taught journalism during his career, including for Ball State University and Franklin College in Indiana.