Problem: When you take your car in for wheel balancing, mechanics will often install new wheel weights – small, metal pieces that attach to the rim and help adjust for the proper balance. For decades, these metal wheel balancing weights have been made out of lead.
Because of the large number of cars and trucks in the U.S., the total amount of lead used as wheel weights is staggering. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 65,000 tons of lead wheel weights are in use on the over 200 million cars and trucks that are driven in the U.S. About 2,000 tons of these weights fall from vehicles every year and into roadways. Most wheel weights are lost on city streets when vehicles hit curbs, bounce over potholes, stop or accelerate suddenly, or turn sharply. Once lost from the vehicle, these leady wheel weights release lead into the environment -- when they are worn down by traffic, lead is spread around by wind or water. And when roadsides are close to reservoirs or other water bodies used as sources of drinking water, this lead can end up in our drinking water. Lead dust can also be tracked by people and pets inside homes and other buildings.
CEH Action: In 2007, CEH began legal action against manufacturers of wheel weights and against Chrysler, which continued to use lead in wheel weights after other car companies had phased them out.
Solution: In 2008, CEH finalized legal agreements with Chrysler and the wheel weight makers, requiring them to stop selling lead wheel weights in California. (link to report California also passed a law, sponsored by CEH, that bans any company from selling or using lead wheel weights in California. As a result, most wheel weights are now made of steel, zinc, and other non-lead materials – and the risk to our drinking water is greatly reduced.
What You Can Do: When you have your car's tires balanced, verify that your tire dealer is using non-lead weights. If you live outside of California, check http://www.epa.gov/osw/hazard/wastemin/members.htm for companies that have joined the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's National Lead Free Wheel Weight Initiative.
DeadWeight focuses on Iowa legislature, West Branch Times (Iowa), September 16, 2009
Lead wheel weights to be phased out in California by end of 2009, LA Times, August 20, 2008
Legal Action Cites Chrysler, Producers for Continuing Use of Lead-Based Wheel Weights, Ecology Center (press release), August 23, 2007