When considering the most polluting qualities of their cars, most people probably think of the tailpipe emissions—not the tiny weights that keep their tires balanced and help provide a smooth ride. But these small, seemingly innocuous clip-ons no bigger than a hair barrette amount to "over 3.5 million pounds of lead
[that] fall off cars each year onto the streets where our children play," according to Jeff Gearhart, research director for the Ecology Center. His group and 11 others, including The Sierra Club, petitioned Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Lisa Jackson to demand an outright ban of lead wheel weights in the U.S.
While the EPA already has in place the National Lead Free Wheel Weight Initiative (NLFWWI), the petitioners contend that this voluntary measure isn't strong enough, and estimate that "no more than one-third of the lead wheel weight market will potentially be changed to lead-free due to the NLFWWI." EPA's partnership program addresses lead wheel weights found in tires of new cars; this petition aims to eliminate lead wheel weights from use in aftermarket tires, believed to account for 66% of all of the wheel weights used.
Lead wheel weights result in a pervasive exposure to children, not only because they are inclined to play with them but also because vehicles run over and grind the weights into lead powder, which then spreads throughout the environment. The EPA acknowledges that there is no safe level of lead exposure for children.
Individual states have begun to act on this issue antecedent of a federal mandate. Washington State passed a ban this year that will go into effect in 2011. Maine recently passed a ban which will go into effect in 2010. California and Iowa are considering similar bans. Vermont has banned lead wheel weights for state-owned vehicles by 2010 and for all new vehicles by 2011.
Tom Neltner, cochair of the National Toxic Team for the Sierra Club, says, "This is EPA's chance to finally recognize that lead is an element that does not go away."
A previous EPA petition for the ban of lead wheel weights was denied on August 8, 2005.