The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has taken a weight off tire dealers' minds. A lead weight.
On Aug. 29, the EPA rejected the petition of Ecology Center, a Berkeley, Calif.-based environmental group, for a total ban on lead wheel balancing weights. While the EPA shares Ecology Center's concern about lead in the environment, the agency said, there simply isn't enough data at this time to justify a ban.
The EPA ruling relieved the Tire Industry Association, which fears that a ban on lead wheel weights would greatly increase costs to their members, who would then be forced to buy weights made from much more expensive materials.
``(The) EPA reinforced what TIA has said all along...there is no data proving a significant risk,'' said Becky MacDicken, TIA director of government affairs, in a press release. ``This is not to say that in the future the EPA won't produce other data and proceed at that time with a rulemaking to ban the use of lead wheel weights, but it is a victory.''
TIA has been discussing the lead weight issue with EPA officials for the past two years. The crux of the agency's concern is its estimate, based on its own research, that some 21 million pounds of used lead go unaccounted for each year. Much of it, the EPA fears, could end up poisoning the nation's water, air and land through botched recycling methods or fishermen reusing lead weights as sinkers.
In rejecting Ecology Center's petition, however, the agency said the group's supporting information on the potential effects of lead wheel weights was ``very limited and uncertain.'' The EPA outlined the following data it wants to obtain on lead weights including:
* The number of factories that make or recycle lead weights;
* The number of workers involved;
* The quantities of lead released by those facilities; and
* The contribution of lead weights to the overall levels of lead found near roadways.
Meanwhile, TIA has launched an education campaign on the proper recycling of lead weights, starting with an article in the most recent issue of its magazine, Today's Tire Industry.
The association is urging its members to send their used weights to battery recyclers, wheel weight manufacturers or second-party smelters, and to wash their hands before eating, drinking or touching their faces if they've been handling lead weights.
Because of market changes, lead weight manufacturing may soon become a thing of the past, Ms. MacDicken said. A ban on lead wheel weights in Europe is causing foreign auto and tire makers to switch to zinc and steel.
``However, the cost of zinc and steel is two or three times that of lead,'' she said. ``In a voluntary phaseout, people will hang on to their lead weights as long as they can-maybe forever.''
Meanwhile, the board of the Automotive Maintenance and Repair Association (AMRA) has adopted a policy that all used lead wheel weights collected by its member companies should be recycled through the service provider's designated supplier or an approved recycler.
AMRA, which called this policy a ``first of its kind,'' said that while awaiting pickup, all used wheel weights should be stored in containers suitable for the purpose. The association added that ``providing used wheel weights to anyone other than the approved vendor/recycler is prohibited.''
The lead weights generally range in size from a half-ounce to 5 ounces.
The group noted that simply discarding lead wheel weights and other components containing lead into the trash introduces lead into the environment once it's landfilled, where the lead leaches into the soil and affects groundwater.
AMRA represents automotive repair shops in North America, including about 62,000 service bays where tires are installed on an average of eight vehicles per day. Assuming that each vehicle gets at least two new tires-with an average of two spent weights per tire and an average weight of two ounces-AMRA said its member service facilities account for, ``very conservatively, 248,000 pounds of recyclable lead per day or over 39,000 tons of recyclable lead per year that won't be ending up in landfills-or worse.''
The association said in order to help its member companies that have no designated lead wheel weight supplier or approved vendor, it has made arrangements with Interstate Battery System of America to pick up reclaimed weights from AMRA members' facilities. To arrange for pickup, contact Ronnie Fulton at AMRA's Bethesda headquarters, at (301) 364-4955 or, via e-mail, at [email protected]