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Ann Arbor announces program to phase-out lead wheel weights on city vehicles

Ann Arbor is first city to begin phase-out of lead weights

Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 x 117
Matt Naud, City of Ann Arbor Environmental Coordinator, 734-997-1596
Tom Gibbons, City of Ann Arbor — Operations Analyst, 734-994-2817

(March 15 — 2004) The City of Ann Arbor has started replacing lead wheel balancing weights with lead-free alternatives in vehicles that are in the city fleet. One to two lead wheel weights are applied to tire rims to balance the wheel for a smooth tide and long tire wear. The City has joined forces with nonprofit Ecology Center’s "Lead-Free Wheels" program to install zinc and iron weights on city vehicles. The replacement weights are being supplied to program participants at the same cost of the lead containing weights currently used.

Lead-free wheel weights are being used to help protect consumers and the environment from toxic lead. Recent studies have documented that on average 13% of wheel weights fall off of vehicles during driving. This amount equates to nearly 66 tons of weights being deposited on roadways each year in Michigan. Because of this concern, the European Union Commission has banned the use of lead wheel weight as of July 2005. Lead-Free Wheels program organizers are also calling on auto manufacturers and tire retailers to commit to phasing out the use of lead wheel weights by July 2005 in the U.S. "We commend the leadership of government fleet managers," said Jeff Gearhart, of the Ecology Center. "Ann Arbor is the first city in the country to begin phasing out the use of lead wheel weights, we expect many cities and states will follow their lead."

Tom Gibbons, City of Ann Arbor — Operations Analyst, agrees, "The transition to lead-free wheel balancing has been very easy. We're finding that the weights work as good or better then the lead weights we previously used. We hope the automakers will move to install lead-free weights on all new vehicles."

Because lead targets the nervous system, children and fetuses are especially vulnerable to lead’s toxic effect. Lead is easily absorbed into the growing bodies, interfering with the developing brain and other organs and systems. Recent studies suggest that loss of intelligence of children occurs at Blood Lead Levels (BLL) below 10 mG/dL and raises the question of whether exposure to lead at any level causes measurable harm to children’s brain. The Lead-Free Wheels Program estimates that over 13 million weights (over 300 tons of lead) fall off of vehicle wheels per year in the Midwest alone.

Matthew Naud, City of Ann Arbor Environmental Coordinator, "This is a great example of easy, cost effective action that can have great environmental benefits. We hope that automakers and tire retailers will follow our leadership and work to phase-out this use of lead on all vehicles."

Lead-free weights for the program are being purchased from the top wheel weight manufacturers, including Perfect Equipment (Tennessee), Plumco (Montreal) and Dionys Hoffman (Germany).

The Ecology Center is a regional environmental organization which is working to hold automakers accountable for their vehicle design and manufacturing decisions. For more information on the Ecology Center and the issue of lead wheel weights, visit their web site: http://www.leadfreewheels.org.

The City of Ann Arbor also leads the local Clean Cities program and uses alternative fuels (i.e., biodiesel, natural gas, E 85) and electric vehicles in its fleets. For more information, visit their website: http://www.ci.ann-arbor.mi.us/EnvironmentalCoordination

The Lead-free Wheels Project is funded in part by a grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Lead Free Wheels is a project of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization.