Lead in Wheel Weights: On the Road Out

When you go to gas up the car, you know you’re getting unleaded gas. But when you have your tires balanced, do you ask for lead-free wheel balancing weights? In California, CEH is co-sponsoring legislation to ban the use of lead-based wheel weights.

Recent research has revealed that lead wheel weights falling off cars and trucks are a major, unregulated source of lead pollution in drinking water. According to the U.S. Geological Survey, about 65,000 tons of lead wheel weights are in use on cars and trucks in the U.S., and about 2,000 tons of these weights fall from vehicles every year and into roadways. From there, lead can wash lead into waterways, polluting our drinking water and creating a toxic pool for wildlife. California’s share of this lead pollution is about a half a million pounds a year.

Lead wheel weights were banned by the EU in 2005 and are being phased out in Japan and Korea. In the U.S., the EPA has a “voluntary” program to reduce the use of leaded wheel weights, but several states and localities want to end this water pollution threat now.

CEH is co-sponsoring (with Clean Water Action) a state bill (SB 757) to ban the use of lead wheel weights in California. Washington, Vermont and Maine have passed similar state legislation. Yesterday, the California bill passed the state Senate, and it now heads to the state Assembly.

Meanwhile, in Iowa a team of middle school students are taking on the problem, and winning! “Team Dead Weight” from West Branch Middle School in West Branch, Iowa yesterday were announced the Grand Prize winners of a nationwide We Can Change the World sustainability competition. Team members Jathan Kron (age 12), Justin Roth (age 13) and Brennan Nelson (age 12) contacted CEH earlier this year, and we were happy to provide a letter of support for their project and information on our successful legal work to end the use of lead-based wheel weights by the major producers for the California market. In an email to CEH, Team Dead Weight members wrote, “If we win the contest, we will use [the opportunity] to work for pilot programs, education, and lobbying our state legislators. It is our hope that we will be able to get a bill passed in Iowa that will outlaw the use of lead in wheel weights.” Go Team Dead Weight – congratulations on your great work and the Grand Prize!