About Lead Wheel Weights cont..

Reinventing the Wheel Weight

Hazardous Waste
Both Boyd and Orrick said they expected to see lead wheel weights being removed from cars and trucks for some time to come.

"Life expectancy of most tires [is] anywhere from 40 to 60 thousand [miles]," Boyd said. "Californians average 15,000 a year, so we expect to see them for at least another four years -- probably longer than that."

The old lead weights must be treated as hazardous waste once they're removed, or recycled as scrap metal (which is exempt from regulation), but the good news for most wheel installers is that they probably already have a waste hauler who can properly dispose of the lead.

"The best thing to do would be to speak with your hazardous waste contractor, the person that takes the oil filters and the used oil and the antifreeze and the brake pads and maybe the tires," DTSC's Algazi said. "That company should be able to help you with your lead wheel weights, as well."

Additionally, some manufacturers, including Plombco and Perfect Industries, offer wheel weight recycling or collection programs for their distributors.

It doesn't take a complex system or special containers to store the weights in a shop, but it does help if employees have a designated space to put the weights as soon as they're removed.

Orrick said his employees take the lead weights off and put them in a five-gallon bucket. "When the buckets are full, we accumulate them and put them on a pallet and ship them out of state," he said.

Orrick has even found that there's money to be made from the old lead weights. His shop uses a waste service that takes the lead weights to Nevada, where they are purchased for recycling.

"They'll recycle the lead," he said, "and whatever the costs are, or whatever the lead price is at that time, they'll reimburse me."

Boyd said his Goodyear store also collects the old lead weights in five-gallon buckets. The store's wheel weight supplier hauls them away and disposes of them.

"Prior, we would send [the lead waste] to our battery personnel, and they would use it, recycle it into lead for the batteries. Now we have to dispose it through our supplier, and they handle it through the waste disposal management system," Boyd said.

He said his shop's employees are conscientious about the need to treat lead weights with special care. They wear rubberized gloves while working on wheels, to protect their hands from lead exposure, as well as injuries. Otherwise, Boyd said, "they would just contact things throughout the whole day and be exposed an entire workday to lead." The staff also conducts a nightly sweeping and cleanup to ensure that no lead weights leave the shop as litter, where they can break down or make their way to storm drains.

"The biggest thing is they get kicked, and once they get kicked, and they get outside, and we try and pick them up from outside. We're very conscious of it," he said.

A Lead-Free Future?
California's move to use non-lead weights is part of a widening trend based on increasing studies showing the potential for lead contamination. European and Japanese automakers have phased out lead weights, and legislation banning lead wheel weights is pending or has passed in several U.S. states. Local governments and agencies are voluntarily beginning to use alternatives in their vehicles, as well.

Additionally, as partners in the U.S. EPA's National Lead Free Wheel Weight Initiative, many major U.S. automakers (such as Ford, General Motors and Chrysler), retailers (including Wal-Mart and Costco) and government agencies (such as the U.S. Postal Service and the Air Force) are phasing out lead wheel weights within their stocks and vehicle fleets.

For more information about the law, visit DTSC's Lead Wheel Weights website or contact a regulatory assistance officer at (800) 728-6942.

Additional Resources:

The U.S. EPA's National Lead Free Wheel Weight Initiative

The "Lead Compounds" page on the U.S. EPA's Technology Transfer Network Air Toxics website

"Stocks and Flows of Lead-Based Wheel Weights in the United States,"
a U.S. Geological Survey study

"Lead Loading of Urban Streets by Motor Vehicle Wheel Weights"
by Robert A. Root, in Environmental Health Perspectives, a peer-reviewed publication from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

"Tires and Lead: A Weighty Issue,"
an article in Environmental Science & Technology, a peer-reviewed publication of the American Chemical Society (see page 4 of 8)

"Preventing Lead Poisoning in Young Children," on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site

Lead-Free Wheels: A Project of the Ecology Center

Want to know about lead wheel weights? Want to find out the environmental impact? Watch the video.   green arrow

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