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State announces program to phase-out lead wheel weights on state vehicles

Minnesota is first state to begin phase-out of lead weights

Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director, Ecology Center, 734-663-2400 x117
John Gilkeson, Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, 651-215-0199
Tim Morse, Travel Management Division, 651-296-9998

(March 15 Ń 2004) The State of Minnesota is replacing lead wheel-balancing weights on state fleet vehicles with lead-free alternatives. The weights, typically fastened to wheel rims, help ensure a smooth ride and proper tire wear.

The Minnesota Department of AdministrationŐs Travel Management Division and the Office of Environmental Assistance have joined with the nonprofit Ecology CenterŐs "Lead-Free Wheels" program that substitutes zinc and iron products for lead weights. The replacement weights are being supplied to program participants at the same cost.

Lead-free weights help protect consumers and the environment. Recent studies have documented that 13 percent of wheel weights fall off of moving vehicles. This equates to nearly 30 tons of weights ending up on Minnesota roadways each year. Because of this concern, the European Union is banning the use of lead wheel weights as of July 2005. Lead-Free Wheels program organizers are also calling on auto manufacturers and tire retailers to commit to phasing out lead wheel weights in the U.S by July 2005.

"We commend the leadership of government fleet managers," said Jeff Gearhart, of the Ecology Center. "Minnesota is the first state in the country to begin phasing out the use of lead wheel weights and we expect many states will follow their lead." MinnesotaŐs experience is encouraging, he added.

"The transition to lead-free wheel balancing has been very easy," said Tim Morse, Travel Management Division Director for the Department of Administration. "We're finding that the weights work as good as or better than 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 leadŐs toxic effects. 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 G/dL and raises the question of whether exposure to lead at any level causes measurable harm to childrenŐs brain. The Lead-Free Wheels Program estimates that over 13 million wheel weights (over 300 tons of lead) fall off of vehicle wheels per year in the Midwest alone.

John Gilkeson, principal planner at the Minnesota Office of Environmental Assistance, emphasized, "This is a simple, cost-effective way to eliminate the use of a toxic material (or substance) and protect both our environment and our health. 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 purchased from the top manufacturers, including Perfect Equipment (Tennessee), Plumco (Montreal) and Dionys Hoffman (Germany).

The Ecology Center is a regional environmental organization that seeks automaker accountability in 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 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.