Week of 11/5/2006

Dear EarthTalk: Is it true that driving with soft tires wastes energy and results in more pollution?

—Nanci Graham, via e-mail

When tires are not inflated to the pounds per square inch (PSI) rating recommended by manufacturers, they are less "round" and require more energy to begin moving and to maintain speed. As such, under-inflated tires do indeed contribute to pollution and increase fuel costs.

An informal study by students at Carnegie Mellon University found that the majority of cars on U.S. roads are operating on tires inflated to only 80 percent of capacity. According to the website, fueleconomy.gov, inflating tires to their proper pressure can improve mileage by about 3.3 percent, whereas leaving them under-inflated can lower mileage by 0.4 percent for every one PSI drop in pressure of all four tires.

That may not sound like much, but it means that the average person who drives 12,000 miles yearly on under-inflated tires uses about 144 extra gallons of gas, at a cost of $300-$500 a year. And each time one of those gallons of gas is burned, 20 pounds of carbon dioxide is added to the atmosphere as the carbons in the gas are released and combine with the oxygen in the air. As such, any vehicle running on soft tires is contributing as much as 1.5 extra tons (2,880 pounds) of greenhouse gases to the environment annually.

Besides saving fuel and money and minimizing emissions, properly inflated tires are safer and less likely to fail at high speeds. Under-inflated tires make for longer stopping distances and will skid longer on wet surfaces. Analysts point to under-inflated tires as a likely cause of many SUV rollover accidents. Properly inflated tires also wear more evenly and will last longer accordingly.

Mechanics advise drivers to check their tire pressure monthly, if not more frequently. The correct air pressure for tires that come with new vehicles can be found either in the owner’s manual or inside the driver-side door. Beware, though, that replacement tires may carry a different PSI rating than the originals that came with the car. Most new replacement tires display their PSI rating on their sidewalls.

Also, tire pressure should be checked when tires are cold, as internal pressure increases when the car has been on the road for a while, but then drops when the tires cool back down. It is best to check tire pressure before heading out on the road to avoid inaccurate readings.

As part of the Transportation Recall Enhancement, Accountability and Documentation Act of 2000, Congress has mandated that automakers install tire pressure monitoring systems on all new cars, pickups and SUVs beginning in 2008. To comply with the regulation, automakers will be required to attach tiny sensors to each wheel that will signal if a tire falls 25 percent below its recommended PSI rating. Car makers will likely spend as much as $70 per vehicle to install these sensors, a cost that will no doubt be passed along to consumers. However, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, some 120 lives a year will be saved once all new vehicles are equipped with such systems.

CONTACTS: Carnegie Mellon Today, "Save Gas, Money and the Environment with Properly Inflated Tires," www.cmu.edu/cmnews/extra///050921_tire.html; FuelEconomy.gov, "Keeping Your Car in Shape," www.fueleconomy.org/feg/maintain.shtml.

Dear EarthTalk: What exactly does "not tested on animals" mean on a product, like a shampoo? Where can I find products that are completely not tested on animals and are also eco-friendly?

—James Masarech, via e-mail

Many consumer products go through precise testing to make sure they are safe and healthy for people and the environment before they are made available in the marketplace. The downside is that many of these tests make use of live animals. According to the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS), safety testing of chemicals and consumer products accounts for roughly 10 to 20 percent of the use of animals in laboratories (or approximately two to four million animals) in the U.S.

The majority of animals used in product tests are rats and mice, but dogs, cats, sheep, hamsters, guinea pigs and primates are also used. Significantly more animals are used in biomedical and other kinds of research, but the use of animals in product testing figures prominently in the animal research controversy because it questions the "ethics and humaneness of deliberately poisoning animals [and] the propriety of harming animals for the sake of marketing a new cosmetic or household product," says HSUS.

Governments often mandate that certain products, such as drugs, automotive fluids, garden chemicals and food additives, be tested on animals. In other cases, such as with cosmetics, personal care and household cleaning products, companies voluntarily test on animals to better understand the pros and cons of using certain ingredients, to see what effects a given product or ingredient will have on living systems—and to demonstrate due diligence should their products harm someone and a lawsuit be filed.

In response to these widespread practices, advocacy groups like HSUS and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) campaign vigorously to eliminate or reduce the use of animals in product testing, even recommending boycotts of companies that continue to voluntarily engage in what they argue is both cruel and unnecessary. This advocacy has been effective, as more than 500 cosmetic, personal care and household cleaning products manufacturers have vowed to stop testing their products on animals.

In 2003 the European Parliament approved a Europe-wide ban on the use of animals in cosmetics testing. Set to go into effect in 2009, the prohibition also mandates that no beauty or hygiene products tested on animals elsewhere be sold inside the European Union. Some exemptions do exist, however, such as products tested for toxicity or for their potential effects on human fertility. Some animal advocacy groups see these as unacceptable loopholes likely to undermine the ban or push back its implementation.

In 1986 an international group of animal protection organizations that includes HSUS formed the Coalition for Consumer Information on Cosmetics (CCIC). The coalition urges cosmetics and household products manufacturers to sign on to a "Corporate Standard of Compassion for Animals" policy and agree to not conduct or commission animal tests or use any ingredient or formulation that is tested on animals. Companies portray the coalition’s "leaping bunny" logo on products as proof of their commitment. CCIC publishes a pocket-sized "cruelty free" shopping guide which can also be downloaded from its website.

CONTACT: CCIC Shopping Guide, www.leapingbunny.org/pdf/ccicguide_full.pdf.