As of January 1, 2011, it will be illegal to sell or install a wheel weight that contains lead or mercury in Illinois. The state joins several others that have enacted laws banning the manufacture, sale and use of lead wheel weights. California’s law went into effect on January 1, 2010. Maine, Vermont and Washington also ban the products while Iowa, Maryland, New York, Rhode Island and Wisconsin have considered a ban.
The automakers have already agreed to stop using lead weights as original equipment, and the three major manufacturers of wheel weights in the United States stopped distributing lead weights in 2009. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency launched a voluntary nationwide initiative in 2008 and began a rulemaking process in 2009 which may eventually translate into a mandatory federal ban. The weights have been banned in the European Union since 2005. Automakers, tire makers and the aftermarket are turning to three main substitute materials—steel, zinc or composites.
If lead weights fall off tires, there is concern that they then become environmental hazards or contaminants in the metal recycling process. In the environment, the weights may be ground into fine dust particles and turn into lead oxides, hydroxides or bicarbonates. Lead particles and chemical combinations also pose the risk of contaminating surface and ground water supplies.
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