Martin Zimmerman, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer, August 20, 2008

Lead wheel weights, widely used to balance vehicle tires
and considered a threat to drinking water, will be phased out in California by
the end of next year under a court settlement approved today.

settlement, approved by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Barbara Miller, ends
a lawsuit filed in May by the Oakland-based Center for Environmental Health
against Chrysler and the three largest makers of lead wheel weights for the U.S.
market. Some observers see the settlement as a first step toward a broader ban
on the products.

In its suit, the group contended that wheel weights falling
off vehicles release 500,000 pounds of lead each year into the environment in
California. Discarded wheel weights are ground down by passing vehicles and the
lead eventually can find its way into drinking water supplies, according to the
U.S. Geological Survey. They also end up in landfills, where the lead can leach
into groundwater.

"Wheel weights have been identified as the largest new
route of lead releases into the environment," said Michael Green, executive
director of the Center for Environmental Health. "By moving the industry away
from leaded wheel weights, we are helping to keep the lead out of our kids'
drinking water."

Lead is a highly toxic metal that can cause brain damage
and other nervous system disorders, especially in young children. It has been
used to make wheel weights for decades because it is cheap and heavy, allowing
mechanics to use relatively small weights when balancing tires. (Unbalanced
tires can wear unevenly and pose a safety hazard.)

Under the settlement, Chrysler will end the use of
factory-installed lead wheel weights in vehicles sold in California by July 31,
2009. In addition, wheel-weight producer Plombco Inc. of Canada will end
shipments of lead wheel weights to California by the end of this year. Producers
Perfect Equipment Inc. and Hennessey Industries, both based in LaVergne, Tenn.,
will stop shipments to California by the end of 2009.

"We are pleased
that the court has approved settlement of this matter so that we can move
forward with our aggressive plans to eliminate the use of lead wheel weights in
our products," a Chrysler spokesman said. "By the end of this month, we expect
that all of the vehicles we produce will be equipped with wheel weights made
from alternate materials — 11 months ahead of the schedule set in the
settlement agreement in California."

Lead wheel weights have been under
attack for several years by environmentalists. They were banned by the European
Union in 2005 and are being phased out in Japan and Korea. The U.S.
Environmental Protection Agency is sponsoring a voluntary initiative to reduce
the use of lead wheel weights but has not banned them.

Goodyear and other
big tire makers are already phasing them out, as are all the major

"For environmental reasons, this is the direction the
industry is going," said a spokesman for Goodyear, which has 83 company-owned
tire stores in California.

As lead weights are phased out, weights made
of steel or zinc alloy are being used for tire balancing. Those weights are
larger and cost 20% to 30% more, said Mark Aiken, vice president of sales for
Plombco. However, because wheel weights typically cost less than 50 cents each,
and there are generally only two per wheel, the higher cost shouldn't have a big
impact on consumers, he said.

The Ecology Center, a nonprofit
environmental group based in Ann Arbor, Mich., said the California settlement
should provide a big boost to the anti-lead forces.

"We fully expect
dozens of states to follow California's leadership and ban the use of lead wheel
weights," said Jeff Gearheart, the center's research director.

California lawsuit was filed under Proposition 65, known as the Safe Drinking
Water and Toxic Enforcement Act. The law requires the posting of public warnings
in businesses or on products that could expose people to chemicals that
government scientists have found cause cancer or birth defects.