wheel weights

Environment
9:00 am
Thu November 10, 2011

States ban lead wheel weights

A collection of lead wheel weights that have fallen off cars and trucks.
Photo by Jeff Gearhart

By Julie Grant for The Environment Report

The U.S. has worked to get lead out of gas and out of paint, but the biggest source of lead in a consumer product is still on roadways. It’s in the form of wheel weights, used to balance the tires on our cars. The Environmental Protection Agency says about 1.6 million pounds of lead fall off of vehicles each year, and it winds up in the environment. A handful of states is leading the effort to ban lead wheel weights.

If you notice a wobble or vibration when you’re driving, it could mean you’ve lost a wheel weight. Jeff Gearhart is a researcher with the Ecology Center in Ann Arbor. He says wheel weights are about the size of your pinky finger, and there are usually one or two of them for each tire.

“If you look at the rubber part of the wheel, then there’s a metal part, and if you look carefully, then you’ll see a clip-on weight.”

Gearhart isn’t a traditional car guy. He cares about wheel weights because in most states, they’re made with lead. Gearhart says it’s easy to bump a curb, and lose a wheel weight. The EPA says 13% of them fall off. On the roads, the weights get crushed into dust. He says the lead winds up in the soil, in drinking water and ground water.

“Lead’s a neurotoxin, leads to learning disabilities, lower IQ. We don’t know of any safe level of lead exposure in the environment.”

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