SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- An Oakland environmental group announced Wednesday that Chrysler LLC and three auto-parts makers have agreed to end their use of lead wheel weights in California.
The settlement comes about a year after the Center for Environmental Health took legal action against the companies claiming the weights were falling off cars and trucks and polluting the state's drinking water.
The settlement approved in Alameda County Superior Court requires Chrysler, Perfect Equipment Inc., Hennessy Industries Inc. and Plombco Inc. to phase out lead wheel weights statewide by the end of 2009, the center said.
According to the group, which specializes in anti-lead campaigns, errant wheel weights release 500,000 pounds of lead in California annually -- the largest source of new lead environmental contamination in the state.
The group said it had singled out Chrysler because other auto makers were already moving away from the use of lead wheel weights.
The weights, which are used to balance tires, are clipped to the wheels of nearly all 200 million cars and trucks on U.S. roadways, according to the Environmental Protection Agency, which has been encouraging manufacturers, retailers and repair shops to voluntarily halt the use of all lead wheel weights by the end of 2011.
Anti-lead groups have criticized the agency for not enacting a mandatory lead wheel weight ban similar to one already in place in the European Union.
According to the EPA, weights that fall off are typically washed into storm sewers and end up in waterways, or get picked up during street cleaning and taken to landfills, where they can corrode and contaminate groundwater.
A 2006 U.S. Geological Survey report estimated that about 2,000 tons of lead from wheel weights ended up on the nation's roads in one year.
Under the agreement, Plombco will end shipments of lead wheel weights into California by the end of this year, while Hennessy and Perfect Equipment will end shipments by the end of 2009, according to the plaintiffs.
Chrysler must fully eliminate lead in wheel weights on cars intended for sale in California by July 31, 2009.
Wheel weight manufacturers are replacing lead weights with weights made from steel or zinc alloys.
The USGS report said more study is needed to determine if zinc released into the environment from wheel weights might also have environmental consequences.