Aug 23 (Reuters) – Public health and environmental groups have accused the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency of unreasonably delaying regulations that could ban lead weights in automobile wheels, which can break loose and contaminate streams and soil near roadways.

In a petition filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals on Tuesday, the Sierra Club, the Center for Environmental Health and others said the EPA has not finalized rules for the lead weights despite saying it would do so 14 years ago.

Lead weights are used to balance car wheels, but can fall off when cars hit potholes or other debris. The groups said millions of pounds of lead are knocked loose from wheels each year.

The groups said the EPA’s delay in issuing the regulations is “egregious” and violates the agency’s obligation under the Administrative Procedure Act to act within a reasonable period of time after agreeing to consider regulations. They are asking the court to force the EPA to develop regulations within six months.

The EPA declined to comment Wednesday.

It has estimated that 1.6 million pounds of lead are knocked off wheels each year during normal driving conditions.

Lead exposure can damage the brain and kidneys. It poses a particular danger to children, whose nervous systems are still developing.

The EPA in 2009 had accepted a request from the groups to consider developing a lead wheel weight prohibition under the Toxic Substances Control Act, which authorizes the agency to regulate toxic substances in the marketplace.

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