Sealants are a very widely used product, especially by mountain bikers and other cyclists and knowing what these products are made of and if they can be toxic or not is very important
Well, the first thing I think you would be thinking about is which ingredients are in the sealant what makes it toxic, how toxic it actually is, and is it toxic to the environment or your tires.
Why Sealants are toxic and what makes them toxic :
If you don’t know or didn’t know sealants are toxic to some extent we cannot say they are toxic as some elements in the Sealants are biodegradable over time while the manufacturers are looking for alternatives and there is little progress but still they are toxic and some elements in it are more toxic than others.
Starting from ethylene glycol, ethylene glycol is very toxic there are alternatives like propylene and others but they are a little lower performing than ethylene, now most Sealant manufacturers don’t use it but some do
now you may ask then why even use ethylene, the simplest answer would be it’s a necessary evil like the sealants are.
Ethylene glycol or propylene glycol is a coolant (it can drastically reduce the freezing and boiling point of water) now water is the equation as well well I guess I should just start from the ingredients otherwise you guys would not understand a thing I will be saying.
Almost all the bike tubeless sealant brands use natural latex, what is natural latex? well, it’s found on trees you could see it on any tree it’s a honey-very viscous material that is dripping from the trees, especially from rubber trees.
Now latex in itself is not toxic it’s biodegradable it will eventually just break into its components and become part of the soil or whatever.
back to the topic so latex has very low-temperature freezing or boiling point and it’s very very viscous so it’s not very useful in its original form especially as a sealant what the different companies did well was they put in water different chemical and glycol in it.
now this is where all the trouble starts even if the manufacturers are not adding ethylene to the mix but they are essentially adding more chemicals just o make sure
- the sealant particles stay together
- The sealant doesn’t dry up over time
- and it shouldn’t corrode the rim
Now all of these things are important otherwise sealants would have been a failure, you wouldn’t buy a product that would corrode your tire rim or goes bad in under an hour.
The other thing that forces them to add these things or other things which we don’t know specifically is that they need to make the price as low as possible to stand a chance in the market and to control the prices they are going to look for the cheap options.
And when you take the price prospect into the whole ordeal well propylene is more expensive than ethylene.
Now it doesn’t mean every brand is using them or I don’t know which ones use them and which don’t most of them don’t(probably, hopefully), but the point is keeping the market price in control is a driver for cheap or bad ingredients as well.
There’s also the fact that they need to make it as less corrosive as possible for which they need to add some more content and in general when you add up all those things whether the sealants have ethylene or propylene, they are going to be toxic because of the “other industrial chemicals” in it.
so that leads us to the next question.
How toxic are the tubless Sealants :
Well, there are two main components natural latex and propylene glycol that the bike tubeless sealant manufacturers disclose other than that they say that they add other chemicals in it as well, and we aren’t sure if they are safe or not for humans or the environment but what we do know is that they are in very small quantity which still makes them dangerous (if any are present) as a collective mass.
So how dangerous are they? natural latex can give you an allergy to touch and in extreme cases that can mean a really bad source but on the other hand propylene glycol is accepted by the government to be used in edible products and cosmetics and so on and so forth source
Do I recommend using it? no! I don’t, I know nothing about it I am just an ordinary biker like you guys are and I don’t know in how much quantity using it won’t cause damage or not and so on and so forth, so there’s that if you are curious to find this out here’s a 50-page long document from Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Are substances in sealant dangerous to the environment :
Now we are well past sealants’ effects on humans they are dangerous regardless of what or whoever says it.
The real question now is are they dangerous to the environment? yes, they are, natural latex is biodegradable but it’s not biodegradable right away so we can’t just say “oh yeah latex is biodegradable propylene glycol is not harmful so let’s just dump the old sealant on the trails”
Don’t do it, even though natural latex is biodegradable it will still take months to fully break down on the other hand propylene glycol will rapidly degrade in water or on land it will react with water extremely fast, and it’s not dangerous.
That being said the “other chemical” that is often mentioned we know nothing about can be and most probably are.
Take stan’s safety data sheet for example there’s a lot of data on it it’s a 7-page-long document but to narrow it down it, they say that you shouldn’t dispose of the sealant in the sewers or near any water source or on land(trails), I think that clearly says what it means.
Now the big question is
what we can do to improve the situation :
Well by now you know if sealants are toxic and what makes them toxic the big question is what we can do about it and I think the best thing we can do about it is.
Taking responsibility: you and I are both as much responsible for this planet as anyone else is, sealants are there and they will be here for a nearly unknown future and of course, as ways are discovered they will become less and less toxic over the years as the research moves along.
But in the meantime, it is the best thing available so it falls on us as the consumers of these products to accept as much responsibility as we can if your sealant manufacturer says don’t dump your sealant in sewers then you shouldn’t.
Rather than trying to discriminate against them, remember we are still using plastic bags and most of our garbage still ends up in the ocean, but still we use them because there are alternatives but they can either be more expensive or nearly not that convenient the same is true for sealants.
Rather than discrimination and using the product any way I think we can do better than that and take some of that responsibility ourselves as well until better solutions are discovered which they will eventually and of course, the manufacturers will change to that hopefully.
If you are so concerned if the sealants are toxic and still you are using them(which is completely normal, I use them as well) then you should take responsibility as well, it doesn’t have to be that if that thing is toxic or this is toxic I think we are smart enough to know that we can do better, accept your part of the responsibility, take care of yourself but also take care of this planet as well, it belongs to all of us and everyone is doing their best to not damage the environment as much as possible so use the sealants, I do everyone else does but make sure that you dispose of them the way that your sealant manufacturer tells you to do.