Here on AutoblogGreen, when we think of lead's use in our automobiles, the first application which comes to mind is the lead-acid car battery, which we would love to see phased out of use by the more efficient, smaller and more energy-dense nickel metal hydride and lithium ion batteries. After batteries, we may remember a time when leaded gasoline was pumped into our fuel tanks. Still, there are other sources of lead in or on your car, including those little weights which help balance out your wheels. The European Union banned the use of lead weights back in 2005, but the practice of using the heavy metal for balancing is still prevalent in the United States. Not for long, though, as the State of California has reached an agreement with Chrysler and the three largest manufacturers of wheel weights to begin phasing them out. The legal agreement stipulates that 2009 will be the final year that they are installed at all. Considering the statistics as laid out in the press release pasted after the break, we wouldn't be surprised to see this action taken up in other States sooner rather than later.
[Source: Lead-Free Wheels]

Press Release:

Chrysler, Wheel Weight Makers Agree to Eliminate Lead

Companies Forced to Reformulate Products for the California Market Due to Water Pollution Threat from Lead-based Wheel Weights

Oakland, CA - The Center for Environmental Health (CEH) today announced it has reached a legal agreement with Chrysler and the three largest producers of automobile wheel bearing weights, requiring the companies to end the use of leaded wheel weights in California by the end of 2009. The landmark agreement marks the first-ever legally binding statewide rule phasing out lead in wheel weights in the U.S., and will end the annual release of 500,000 pounds of lead into the environment in California, which occurs when wheel weights break off of automobile wheels.

Last August, CEH launched its legal action against Chrysler, Perfect Equipment, Inc, Hennessey Industries, and Plombco Inc., due to the threat to the state's drinking water from wheel weights that fall from cars and trucks. "Wheel weights have been identified as the largest new route of lead releases into the environment," said Michael Green, Executive Director of CEH. "By moving the industry away from leaded wheel weights, we are helping to keep the lead out of our kids' drinking water."

According to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), about 65,000 tons of lead wheel weights are in use on cars and trucks in the U.S., and it is estimated that at least 3% of wheel weights fall off of cars and trucks. USGS states that the discarded wheel weights "drop to the road surface where they become abraded by vehicle traffic, eventually becoming dissipated into the environment by wind and storm water."

A peer-reviewed study in 2000 found that lead pollution from wheel weights "is continuous, significant, and widespread, and is potentially a major source of human lead exposure." The study noted that the highest rate of lead deposition likely occurs in urban areas, posing a significant lead poisoning threat to poor and minority populations that are already disproportionately impacted by other sources of lead.

While Chrysler had lagged behind most car makers in switching to non-leaded wheel weights for their new cars, Chrysler is now quickly phasing out the use of lead as a result of CEH's action. In addition, aftermarket repair shops still often use leaded weights when they balance auto wheels and/or replace tires. Just this month, a Hennessey spokesperson told Tire Business that leaded wheel weights are still "the major part of our wheel weight business." This will no longer be the case in California due to CEH's efforts.

The Ecology Center, based in Michigan, has worked for several years to expose the problem of lead wheel weights and advocate for alternatives, while running the web site www.leadfreewheels.org . "This settlement represents the beginning of the end for lead wheel balancing weights in the U.S.," said Jeff Gearhart, Research Director at the Ecology Center. "We fully expect dozens of states to follow California's leadership and ban the use of lead wheel weights."

In 2005, the Ecology Center petitioned EPA under the Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA), calling for a federal ban on lead wheel weights. Lead wheel weights have been banned in the EU since July 2005, and Japan and Korea are phasing them out. Yet EPA has refused to enact a ban, instead relying on voluntary industry action. "It is simply scandalous that three years after the rest of the world banned toxic lead weights, the U.S. continues to allow their use," said Gearhart. "It's time fix our failed regulatory system." A Hennessey spokesman recently stated that due to the price difference between lead and safer alternatives, "[I]t will be hard to change the market [to lead-free wheel weights] without legislation."

Washington, Maine and Massachusetts have considered such legislation, but the CEH settlement creates the first binding statewide ban on shipments from the major wheel weight suppliers. Some municipalities have eliminated lead wheel weights on their local fleets, and the U.S. Air Force and Postal Service have taken action to eliminate lead wheel weights from their fleets.

Under today's agreement, Plombco will end shipments of leaded wheel weights into California by the end of this year; Hennessey and Perfect Equipment agreed to end shipments by the end of 2009. Chrysler agreed to eliminate its use of leaded wheel weights on 55% of its automobiles by the end of this month and to fully eliminate lead in wheel weights on cars intended for sale in California by July 31, 2009.

CEH has a ten-year track record of using California law to stop toxic water and air emissions and to protect children from hidden lead risks in consumer products, including vinyl baby bibs, lunchboxes, baby powders, children's medicines, imported candies, and metal and vinyl jewelry.

The Ecology Center is a regional environmental organization which works to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles. For more information on the Ecology Center and the issue of lead-free wheel weights, visit www.ecocenter.org and www.leadfreewheels.org.


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