{Lead-Free Wheels}

Skip navigation

Environmentalists Move to Ban Major Automotive Lead Use

Contact: Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director, Ecology Center, Michigan, 734-663-2400 x117

(May 17, 2005, Ann Arbor, Mich.) Since the 1980s the EPA has eliminated lead in gasoline and household paint. Now environmentalists have asked EPA to ban the sales of one of the largest unregulated sources of lead to the environment, automotive wheel balancing weights. An estimated 4,865 metric tons of lead from wheel weights is released each year onto U.S. roadways.

This week the Ecology Center formally filed a citizens petition under the federal Toxic Substance Control Act (TSCA) asking EPA to develop rules which would ban the sale of lead wheel weights in the U.S. (download a copy of TSCA citizens petition) In addition, the Ecology Center's "Lead Free Wheels" program has worked to install over 25,000 lead free weights in fleets around the country and has now petitioned EPA to ban the sale of all lead weights within 2 years.

"Lead wheel weights falling off cars and trucks are a major, unregulated source of lead pollution in the U.S.," said Jeff Gearhart, Campaign Director of the Ecology Center. "This problem is widely recognized in Asia and Europe, it's time for EPA to address the problem here." On average, cars and light trucks have up to 10 wheel weights, one on the inner and outer rims of each tire including the spare. They range from 1/2 inch to 6 inches in length and from 1/4 ounce to 4 ounces in weight.

The Ecology Center has called on all auto manufacturers and tire retailers committed to phasing out the use of lead wheel-balancing weights in the U.S. by July 2006. Use of lead weights in Europe are to be banned starting in July 2005.

Recent studies have documented that on average 13% of wheel weights fall off vehicles during driving. One study estimates that 3.3 million pounds of lead per year are deposited on urban roads in the United States. Lead wheel weights are actually very soft and when they fall off a vehicle they are rapidly abraded by traffic into smaller pieces, scattered into the wind as dust, washed into storm sewers and waterways, and picked up by shoes, animal paws, and bicycle tires.

Lead-free wheel weights are being introduced to help protect consumers and the environment from toxic lead exposure. The EPA considers lead and lead compounds "persistent bioaccumulative toxic" (PBT) chemicals because of their toxicity and because they remain in the environment for long periods of time, are not readily destroyed, and build up or accumulate in body tissue. Lead is especially dangerous to children and developing fetuses, even in very small amounts.

In an effort to educate the public about the dangers of this lead exposure and create consumer demand for more environmentally friendly alternatives, the Ecology Center is joining forces with select tire retailers and government fleet operators across the nation. The "Lead-Free Wheels" program offers lead-free wheel weights at a discount to a growing number of private and public sector participants.

"The lead-free wheel weight program is a good example of our commitment to protecting the people of our community and the environment in which we live," said Romulus, Michigan Mayor Alan R. Lambert. "Lead-Free Wheels" program participants include two tire retailers in Michigan and one in the State of Washington. Public vehicle fleets converting to lead-free wheel weights include those at the University of Michigan, the major Michigan cities of Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Romulus, and Madison Heights, and the State of Minnesota.

"I wish that every environmental improvement could be this simple," said Cal Brooks, Director of the Romulus Department of Public Works. "We're finding that the new weights work as good or better than the lead weights we previously used."

The replacement wheel weights - made from zinc - are being supplied to program participants by the Ecology Center at the same cost as the lead weights currently used.

The lead-free weights for the program meet all Original Equipment Manufacturer specifications and are being purchased from the top wheel weight manufacturers, including Perfect Equipment Corporation (Tennessee) and Plombco (Montreal).

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.

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