Consultation document on risk management options for lead wheel weights: chapter 5


5. Alternatives

Several materials including copper, steel, tin and zinc have been identified as potential alternatives to lead for use in wheel weights. It is estimated that lead wheel weights represent about 72% of the Canadian market, whereas steel and zinc combined represent about 28% of the same market. European and Japanese automotive manufacturers (e.g., Honda) primarily use zinc wheel weights, as they were early adopters of lead-free wheel weights; North American automotive manufacturers (e.g., Ford, Chrysler and GM) have adopted steel (Environment Canada, 2013).

It is expected that the most viable and cost-effective alternatives to lead wheel weights are steel and zinc. In terms of raw material costs, steel is less costly than lead, but the process to manufacture steel wheel weights requires the use of additional equipment and requires additional manufacturing steps. Zinc wheel weights are produced in a similar way to lead, but the raw material costs are higher. In addition, zinc may pose greater risks to the environment when compared with lead (California EPA, 2011).

The California Environmental Protection AgencyFootnote 6 and the Toxics Use Reduction Institute (TURI)Footnote 7 at the University of Massachusetts-Lowell have both developed assessments for alternatives to lead in wheel weights. Findings show that alternatives are safe for humans and the environment. However, there are some costs and technical issues associated with these alternatives, such as density, malleability and corrosion resistance. In some instances, these issues could be overcome by the use of coated weights to prevent tarnishing and corrosion reactions. Installation issues may also be diminished with proper training and experience in the use of alternatives.

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