The state of Minnesota has begun a pilot program of replacing lead wheel-balancing weights on state fleet vehicles with lead-free alternatives.
The state's Travel Management Division and its Office of Environmental Assistance both signed on to recommendations from the Ecology Center, a Detroit-based non-profit environmental group, to begin replacing lead wheel weights with zinc and iron wheel weights early this year. The state thus far has phased out lead wheel weights on vehicles that come in for tire changes and wheel balancing, according to Tim Morse, director of Minnesota's Travel Management Division.
Mr. Morse said the state's environmental assistance office contacted him several months ago and sold him on the idea because of studies cited by the Ecology Center showing that 13 percent of wheel weights fall off moving vehicles. The Travel Management Division acts as an in-house leasing company that provides vehicles to other state agencies.
``When we looked at it, it just made good common sense that it was something that we should do for the environment,'' Mr. Morse said. ``We've been receiving weights from the Ecology Center for awhile. We made the decision that these things are working great for us, and we're not going back to the lead ones at this point.''
He noted that new vehicles still come with lead wheel weights and tire dealers the state contracts with still use lead wheel weights, but the agency itself has phased out the use of wheel weights completely.
Though a pilot, the program will become permanent if no problems arise, according to John Gilkeson, principal planner at the Office of Environmental Assistance. He said the state is not trying to convince the private sector to phase out wheel weight use and would need to gauge the pilot program's progress over six months to a year first before encouraging tire retailers to do the same.
The Ecology Center, which works with the automotive industry to phase out harmful chemicals and materials in vehicles, has been in contact with other states and independent tire dealers about using lead-free alternatives, said Jeff Gearhart, the center's campaign director. He said the European Union is banning the use of lead wheel weights by July 2005, and the Ecology Center believes that would be a good target date for the U.S. to do the same.
``We've talked to all of the major wheel weight manufacturers, and the industry is global enough that vehicles made in the U.S. and exported to Europe are going to have to have lead-free wheel weights on them because in Europe it's the law,'' Mr. Gearhart told Tire Business.
Mr. Gearhart declined to say which dealers the Ecology Center is talking to, other than to say they're located in the Midwest. He said he hopes to get dealers on board to begin using lead-free wheel weights.
``For this program, we are going to work with the tire retailers who want to take some leadership,'' Mr. Gearhart said. ``We're interested in helping them sell this as a positive thing they can do for the environment....It's a one-for-one replacement.''