McKeon Bill Aimed at Cutting Down on Lead, Mercury Pollution in NJ Heads to Governor

Legislation Assemblyman John McKeon sponsored to crack down on lead and mercury in motor vehicle tires and wheel weights gained final legislative approval from the Senate on Monday and now heads to the governor’s desk.

Lead and mercury weights are commonly used in replacement tires to balance wheels and tires. Mercury wheel balancing products are made for use with large wheels found on semi-tractors and trailers, as well as larger recreational vehicles and buses. Wheel weights are fastened to automobile rims in order to balance tires and prevent uneven tire wear.

“Often, these weights fall off cars and are either washed into storm sewers and end up in our waterways or are gathered during street cleaning and placed in landfills,” said McKeon (D-Essex/ Morris). “Our concern is that both substances are highly-toxic and susceptible to atmospheric erosion releasing lead and mercury into the environment.”

The bill (A-261), which was unanimously approved by the Assembly in January, would prohibit:
(1) the installation on any motor vehicle of a wheel weight that contains lead or mercury that was intentionally added during the manufacturing process;
(2) the sale or offering for sale of a wheel weight that contains intentionally added lead or mercury; and
(3) the sale of a new motor vehicle equipped with a wheel weight that contains intentionally-added lead or mercury.

“How much harm can a lead or mercury wheel weight cause the environment? While it’s difficult to discern, one study found that approximately 12 tons of lead in the form of wheel weights are deposited on New Jersey roads each year,” continued McKeon. “That’s a lot of mercury and lead being discarded unsafely on New Jersey’s roadways. Non-toxic alternative products are available to use for the same purpose. With this bill, we encourage the use of more eco-friendly products to help preserve our environmental heritage.”

The bill would direct the Department of Environmental Protection to establish a public education program about these prohibitions. The legislation also would allow DEP to enter, during normal business hours, and upon presentation of appropriate credentials, any retail establishment at which wheel weights are used or sold, and any new car dealer, in order to determine compliance.

Under the bill, violations would be subject to a penalty of up to $2,500 for each offense and possible injunction against the violator. Similar legislation has passed in at least six states.

Currently, there are no federal laws governing the use of lead or mercury wheel weights.