Advocates Declare ‘No More Delay,’ Sue EPA for Stalled Lead Wheel Weight Regulation

Millions of pounds of lead wheel weights contaminate the environment, exposing people to a highly toxic heavy metal


Erin Fitzgerald, Earthjustice,

Public health advocates represented by Earthjustice today sued the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for its unreasonable delay in regulating lead wheel weights, despite granting the advocates’ 2009 petition requesting regulation of the manufacture, processing, and distribution of lead wheel weights.

EPA granted the petition nearly 14 years ago but has yet to regulate lead wheel weights. Lead wheel weights are used to balance car wheels. Banning their manufacture, processing, and distribution would protect public health by eliminating a source of lead exposure.

“It is well known that lead is a highly toxic substance for which there is no safe level of exposure, yet EPA continues to permit the manufacture, processing, and distribution of lead wheel weights,” said Earthjustice Attorney Lakendra Barajas. “EPA must act now to eliminate this unnecessary source of lead exposure and threat to public health.”

Wheel weights are clipped to rims of automobile wheels for balance, but they often come loose and fall off, releasing about 1.6 million pounds of lead into the environment during regular driving every year, according to EPA. This lead ends up in waterways via storm sewers or in landfills after street cleaning, poisoning fish, wildlife, and communities. The Biden administration placed significant emphasis on lowering lead exposure. Regulating lead wheel weights plays a pivotal role in this necessary objective.

Lead exposure causes an array of health issues, such as neurodevelopmental harm, cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, cancer, kidney damage, and fertility problems. Despite lead’s known toxicity, EPA still allows the manufacture, processing, and distribution of lead wheel weights. Yet non-lead wheel weights can balance tires just as effectively. In fact, many wheel weights now sold are made of zinc or steel rather than lead. EPA has no excuse to postpone regulating lead wheel weights.

Several states have already regulated the manufacturing and installation of lead wheel weights within their borders, and some national tire retailers have voluntarily stopped installing lead wheel weights. However, this state-by-state approach has failed to eliminate the lead wheel weight market and does not restrict international imports or interstate transit of lead wheel weights.

Quotes from our clients:

“We refuse to stand idle while lead wheel weights persist as a threat to our children’s health,” said Queen Zakia Shabazz, founder of United Parents Against Lead & Other Environmental Hazards. “EPA’s inaction on this matter is inexcusable, considering the proven harms of lead exposure. It’s time for the EPA to stand up for our children by regulating lead wheel weights. The Biden administration made lead exposure reduction a key goal. Regulating lead wheel weights is critical in achieving this much-needed goal. Let’s prioritize our children’s health and the wellbeing of our communities over preventable lead pollution.”

“Today’s lawsuit against the EPA is a vital step to address the unjustifiable delay in regulating lead wheel weights,” said Kaya Allan Sugerman, director of Illegal Toxic Threats at the Center for Environmental Health. “With more than a decade-long wait since granting the petition, it’s high time for the EPA to banish the continued production, processing, and distribution of lead wheel weights. This is about safeguarding public health, eradicating a hazardous lead source, and championing alternatives that can effectively balance tires without harming our environment.”

“We’re witnessing the grim reality of these weights releasing lead into our environment, poisoning wildlife, waterways, and harming human health,” said Doris Cellarius from Sierra Club’s National Toxics Team. “EPA must end this dangerous practice by banning lead wheel weight manufacturing, processing, and distribution. Let’s transition to safer alternatives and ensure a cleaner, healthier future for all.”

“Industry, automakers, and public health advocates have been asking for EPA action for two decades; further delay is unacceptable,” said Jeff Gearhart, research director from the Ecology Center. “Europe, Canada, and most western nations have already banned this lead use to protect public health. By dragging its feet on regulating lead wheel weights, the EPA is failing in its duty to protect public health and the environment.”

A youth scientist who asked the U.S. EPA to ban lead wheel weights holds up a fragmented part of a lead wheel weight found a block from the U.S. EPA building along Constitution Ave., in Washington D.C.
A youth scientist who spoke to the U.S. EPA to ask the agency to ban lead wheel weights holds up a fragmented part of a lead wheel weight found a block from the U.S. EPA building along Constitution Ave., in Washington D.C. (Matt Roth for Earthjustice)

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