Lead And Mercury-Added Wheel Weights
Lead and Mercury-added Wheel Weights Prohibition
New York State law (ECL 37-0113) (link leaves DEC's website) prohibits both the sale and use of wheel weights containing lead and also prohibits the sale and use of wheel weights or other rotational balancing products containing mercury which was intentionally added during the manufacture of the product.
Provisions of the Law
- As of April 1, 2011 any person replacing or balancing a tire on a motor vehicle (that is required to be registered under article fourteen of title four of the vehicle and traffic law), shall not use a wheel weight or other product for balancing motor vehicle wheels if the weight or other balancing product contains more than 0.1 percent lead by weight.
- After April 1, 2011 no person shall sell, offer to sell or distribute weights or other products used for balancing tires that contain more than 0.1 percent of lead by weight.
- After April 1, 2012 a person may not sell a new motor vehicle that is equipped with a weight or other wheel balancing product that contains more than 0.1 percent lead by weight.
- As of April 1, 2018, any person replacing or balancing a tire on a motor vehicle (that is required to be registered under article fourteen of title four of the vehicle and traffic law), shall not use a wheel weight or other product for balancing motor vehicle wheels if the weight or other balancing product contains mercury that was intentionally added during the manufacture of the product.
- As of April 1, 2018, a person shall not sell or offer to sell or distribute weights or other products for balancing motor vehicle wheels if the weight or other balancing product contains mercury that was intentionally added during the manufacture of the product.
Use of Lead Wheel Weights
Lead wheel weights are clipped to the rims of motor vehicle wheels to balance tires during rotation. The weight, price, and malleability have made lead the long-time preferred choice for this purpose. An average of 4.5 ounces of lead is clipped to the wheel rims of every automobile in the United States.
Hitting curbs and potholes, rapid accelerations and decelerations, sharp turning, and other driving conditions where a vehicle can rapidly change momentum can cause wheel weights to loosen and fall off. These lost wheel weights are gradually abraded into lead dust which can contaminate surrounding soils and adjacent waterways. In urban and other developed areas, these "lost" wheel weights are collected during street cleaning and sent for landfill disposal. Lead from lead wheel weights can also enter the environment vehicles are improperly processed at end-of-life. This is a problem since lead is designated as one of 31 Priority Chemicals targeted to be reduced by the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
To mitigate the potential harmful effects of lead in the environment, public health, and drinking water supplies, a handful of states have enacted legislation to prohibit the use of lead wheel weights. Alternatives to lead wheel weights are available and using an alternative not only protects the environment, but also protects employees for lead exposure.
Use of Mercury-Added Wheel Weights or Rotational Balancing Products
Mercury-added wheel weights, or more accurately, mercury-added rotational balancing products, are disc-shaped devices that are installed between the wheel and the hub that continuously balances the wheel as it rotates. The hollow disc contains mercury, a known neurotoxin. These devices are often used on large trucks, recreational vehicles and on motorcycles.
Unless the mercury-added rotational balancing product is removed and properly managed at the vehicle's end-of-life processing, the contained mercury can be released to the environment. Vehicle dismantling facilities are required to remove all mercury-containing devices prior to crushing end-of-life vehicles. Since these products are generally after-market, they are easily overlooked.
As with non-lead alternatives to lead wheel weights, there are non-mercury alternatives for rotational balancing products on the market. An internet search can locate non-mercury-added rotational balancing products.
Determining if lead or mercury is present
Wheel weights may have a chemical symbol written on them. For weights made of steel you may see the chemical abbreviation "Fe" (for iron, the primary component of steel). The chemical symbol "Zn may be visible on weights made of zinc. Both metals tend to be a little lighter in weight than those made of lead, so those weights should be larger than lead weights. You may want to contact the manufacturer if you have questions about the materials in your wheel weights.
Since 2005, mercury-added consumer products have been required to be labeled to indicate the presence of mercury. If there is no apparent label, you should contact the manufacturer, if known.
The law does not require that lead wheel weights or mercury-added rotational balancing devices be replaced. However, if any work is done on a vehicle's tire(s) that requires an old lead wheel weight or mercury-added rotational balancing product to be removed or a lost wheel weight to be replaced, or if a lead wheel weight falls off in the process of working on a tire, the old lead wheel weight or mercury-added rotational balancing product cannot be placed back on the tire. Any wheel weight or rotational balancing product installed on the tire will need to comply with the law. Also note, if you add or replace a wheel weight or rotational balancing product you must replace it with a compliant product. The same holds true for repair shops. If they remove a lead wheel weight and replace it, it must be replaced with a compliant wheel weight.
If you have stock of unwanted lead weights options may include returning the wheel weights to your supplier to see if they will exchange them for the type that comply with the law, sending them for recycling as scrap metal, and disposing of them as a regulated hazardous waste. You cannot discard them in the trash. It is important to note that the law does not require distributors, suppliers, or manufacturers to exchanged lead wheel weights with complaints wheel weights, but you can contact your distributor or manufacturer for more information about what to do with your noncompliant lead wheel weights.
After April 1, 2021, a new motor vehicle could not be sold with wheel weights containing lead. In reference to used vehicles with lead wheel weights -- they can be sold. However, if lead wheel weights are removed from a tire for any reason prior to sale, the old lead wheel weight cannot be placed back on the tire. A wheel weight that complies with the law will need to be installed.
There are penalty provisions, under Environmental Conservation Law section 71-3703, that apply to a person that improperly stores or releases lead in lead wheel weights to the environment. This section of law provides that any person who violates any of the provisions of, or who fails to perform any duty imposed by, section 37-0107 or any rule or regulation promulgated pursuant hereto, shall be liable for a civil penalty not to exceed $2,500 for each such violation and an additional penalty of not more than $500 each day during which such violation continues and, in addition, such person may be enjoined from continuing such violation.
Remember to recycle
Lead wheel weights should be recycled: recycling facilities can be found in an on-line search. Mercury-added consumer products must be brought to a solid waste or hazardous waste facility authorized to accept such material. Mercury-added consumer products cannot be placed in the trash.