Environmentally Friendly

An estimated 70,000 tons a year of lead is used worldwide in the manufacture of wheel weights used to balance vehicle tires. Recent studies, summarized by the Lead Free Wheels Program (see below), have shown that lead deposition from wheel weights is a significant and previously unquantified source of lead releases to the environment. These releases are especially troublesome because they are not concentrated at easily identifiable point sources, but are randomly scattered across our nation's roadways.

The Lead Problem

Medical research shows that lead can harm human health even at low exposure levels. Adverse impacts of lead include learning abnormalities and behavioral problems in children. The combination of high toxicity, a long life in the environment, and the ability to build up in food chains makes lead one of the most problematic chemicals in commerce for human and ecological health.

An average vehicle contains ten wheel weights (two on each of the four wheels and two more on the spare), the majority of which are clip-on types that can detach from the wheel's rim. Recent studies (according to Lead Free Wheels project) have documented that on average 13% of these wheel weights fall off onto roadways, where they are pulverized by traffic and carried into waterways by rainwater. Busy streets and parking lots are the primary sources of lead in urban runoff and can contaminate the water supply and harm aquatic life.

Lead-Free Wheel Weights

The European Union has banned the use of lead wheel weights, effective July 2005, so alternatives made of zinc, steel and other materials have rapidly become standard practice in Europe, but are very new in the United States, where the need for regulation is just becoming clear.

ZAMA (an alloy of zinc, aluminum, and copper), and steel are emerging as the top two alternatives to lead weights, although others products and systems exist. Availability of these alternative products remains limited in the US because they have not yet reached regular distribution channels, though there are major manufacturers in North America. The cost of alternatives is currently higher by approximately 10-20%.

Many new vehicles, such as models from Toyota, Subaru and Honda, have lead-free weights put on in the factory. You can find a list of these cars at:


Phase-out by Municipalities

Thanks to the help and funding of the Ecology Center's Lead-Free Wheels campaign, two government agencies, a state and city, have adopted the use of lead-free wheel weights. Following are links to the press releases:

  • State of Minnesota- "State announces program to phase-out lead wheel weights on state vehicles"
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan - "Ann Arbor announces program to phase-out lead wheel weights on city vehicles"

  • The above information has been provided by the King County (State of Washington) Government website.  King County is a leader in the country banning and regulating the use of lead products.  Additionally, the State of Washington currently has legislation pending to ban the use of lead products in the entire state.
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