ANN ARBOR, MI — Since the 1980s the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has worked to eliminate lead in gasoline and household paint. Now environmentalists have asked the 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, according to the Ecology Center, a regional environmental organization working to reduce the environmental impact of vehicles.
The Ecology Center recently filed a formal citizens petition under the federal Toxic Substance Control Act asking the EPA to develop rules which would ban the sale of lead wheel weights in the U.S. The group also established a “Lead Free Wheels” program, which has worked to install more than 25,000 lead free weights (made of zinc and steel) in fleets around the country. The group has now petitioned the EPA to ban the sale of lead weights within two 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 that are 1/2 inch to 6 inches in length.
The Ecology Center has called on all auto manufacturers and tire retailers to commit to phasing out the use of lead wheel-balancing weights in the U.S. by July 2006. Use of lead weights in Europe is to be banned starting this July.
According to the Ecology Center, recent studies show that on average, 13 percent 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 U.S. Due to the soft nature of lead wheel weights, when they fall off a vehicle they quickly bread down into small pieces, which can be scattered into the wind as dust, washed into storm sewers and waterways, and picked up by shoes, animal paws and bicycle tires. 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. Lead is especially dangerous to children and developing fetuses, even in very small amounts.
“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, Mich., Mayor Alan Lambert. Public vehicle fleets converting to lead-free wheel weights include those at the University of Michigan; the Michigan cities of Ann Arbor, Grand Rapids, Romulus, and Madison Heights, and the State of Minnesota; and tire retailers in Michigan and the State of Washington.
For more information, go to: www.ecocenter.org.
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