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Kids in Danger from Toxic Lead in Automotive "Wheel Weights"

Environmental and public health organizations petition Environmental Protection Agency to protect kids and the environment

For Immediate Release - May 28, 2009


Contacts: Oliver Bernstein, Sierra Club, 512.477.2152
Jeff Gearhart, Ecology Center 734-761-3186 x 117

Washington, D.C. – With the weather warming up and more kids outdoors, a dozen environmental and public health organizations joined together today to petition the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to ban the manufacture and sale of lead wheel weights. These efforts are aimed at protecting kids from the greatest source of lead still being released into the environment: the lead wheel weights that fall off car tire rims.

"Over 3.5 million pounds of lead from wheel weights fall off cars each year on to the streets where our children play, especially in summer months" said Jeff Gearhart, Research Director for the Ecology Center. "Banning lead wheel weights will greatly protect kids from lead poisoning."

Lead wheel weights are finger-sized pieces of pure lead attached to vehicle tire rims to help balance wheels and ensure a smooth ride. A typical vehicle will have up to a half pound of lead attached to its tire rims. Lead weights falling off these tire rims are one of the largest ongoing releases of lead into the environment.

"Cars and trucks grind the wheel weights into a powder that spreads into the neighborhoods along our busy streets, especially the city streets where traffic is heaviest and the stops, starts, and bumps are more common," said Tom Neltner, Co-Chair of the National Toxic Team for the Sierra Club. "This is EPA’s chance to finally recognize that lead is an element that does not go away."

States are already acting. Washington State passed a ban in 2009 that will go into effect in 2011. This month Maine passed a ban which will go into effect in 2010. California and Iowa are currently considering similar bans. Vermont has banned lead wheel weights for state-owned vehicles by 2010 and for all new vehicles by 2011.

Four years ago, the Ecology Center petitioned EPA on the same matter. In that petition, Ecology Center asked EPA to prohibit the manufacturing, processing, distribution in commerce, use and improper disposal of lead wheel balancing weights. EPA denied that petition on August 8, 2005. Almost four years have passed since EPA denied children the opportunity to dramatically reduce their exposure to a major source of new lead on their streets and in their neighborhoods.

While EPA launched a program working with industry nearly a year ago to address concerns about lead wheel weights, the groups believe that it falls short of what is needed to protect children, the public and the environment. EPA’s partnership program addresses lead wheel weights found in tires of new cars. Because tires only last so long, and the vast majority are eventually replaced, the groups’ petition aims to eliminate lead wheel weights from use in aftermarket tires, believed to account for 66% of all of the wheel weights used.

The groups include the Ecology Center, Sierra Club, Alliance for Healthy Homes, Center for Environmental Health, Environmental Health Watch, Coalition to End Childhood Lead Poisoning, United Parents Against Lead, Louisiana ACORN, and Lead Technicians.

To read the petition, go "http://www.leadfreewheels.org.

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The Sierra Club is the oldest, largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization in the United States. Inspired by nature, we are 1.3 million of your friends and neighbors, working together to protect our communities and the planet.

The Ecology Center is a Michigan-based nonprofit environmental organization that works at the local, state, and national levels for clean production, healthy communities, environmental justice, and a sustainable future.

Lead Free Wheels is a project of the Ecology Center, a nonprofit organization.