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Published on May 10, 2005

Weighty issue needs attention

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Opinion

AKRON (May 9, 2005) — The Tire Industry Association (TIA) has discovered through the preliminary results of a survey that only about half of all tire dealers properly recycle the lead wheel weights they remove from customers' vehicles.

That's not good enough, especially if dealers want to avoid another intrusion by the federal government.

Following the lead of Europe, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is considering a ban on lead.

Such a move, if enacted, would force tire dealers to buy wheel weights made out of more expensive materials such as steel or zinc.

The agency began looking into this issue about two years ago, but its efforts really began to heat up over the past year or so, according to Becky MacDicken, TIA's government affairs director.

The EPA, she said, is interested in finding out what has happened to about 21 million pounds of lead that were purchased by companies but haven't been recycled.

The concern over lead is that it is considered an environmental health hazard.

Lead that gets into the blood stream of children can reduce intelligence and attention span, cause learning disabilities and damage a child's brain and nervous system permanently.

Ms. MacDicken speculated that some of this unaccounted-for lead most likely has been given to groups such as fishermen who use the metal as sinkers.

While this issue may seem trivial to some, tire dealers can make an effort to avoid more government intrusion in their businesses and take a step to help the environment simply by disposing of used lead weights through legitimate recyclers.

Most of the wheel weight manufacturers have recycling programs, as do battery recyclers and smelters.

Ms. MacDicken suggested that many dealers may not know of their responsibility to dispose of these products properly. She's probably right.

"We got the response from some of the surveys that a recycling guy shows up every month, or every quarter, and picks up the bucket full of used lead weights," she said. "We don't know where he takes the lead or where it ends up."

TIA and the EPA already have agreed that an educational outreach program for tire dealers is needed. The association also would like to determine whether the lead that is unaccounted for is finding its way into the environment and is actually posing a health problem.

These are good questions to ask before any ban is enacted. But that shouldn't preclude tire dealers and other tire retailers who aren't doing so from starting now to dispose of used lead wheel weights properly.

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