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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Olympia

Washington lawmakers vote to ban lead tire weights…

Those little lead weights clipped onto your tires may soon may go the way of lead type, lead toy soldiers and lead paint.

Washington's state Senate on Tuesday voted to ban the installation of lead tire weights by 2011. Tire dealers will be required to use alternatives like zinc or a steel alloy.

The amended bill now goes back to the House, which is expected to approve it. It then goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire to be signed into law.

"The Asian and European car makers have used alternative wheel weights for years now," said Rep. Tom Campbell, R-Roy, the prime sponsor of HB 1033. "We are just catching up to them."

Lead is highly toxic, Campbell says, and it only makes sense to use less hazardous alternatives. It has been linked to brain damage and other nervous system damage, particularly in young children.

The weights, which have long been used to balance tires and prevent shimmying at high speeds, can come loose and be flung by the roadside. The state Department of Ecology estimates that 5 percent of wheel weights come loose. That would mean that vehicle wheels are dropping 20 tons of lead on roadways and parking lots each year.

Worsening matters, Campbell says, the weights can be pulverized by passing cars, making it even easier for the soft metal to leach into rain runoff and soil.

Eighteen lawmakers, mostly Republicans, voted no.

"This bill seems to be a solution in search of a problem," said Sen. Jim Honeyford, R-Sunnyside. "If you stop and look and think, where does lead come from? It comes from the soil. So it gets ground up, it goes back in the soil. I see no problem here."

Some tire dealers are already phasing out lead weights. Les Schwab announced last summer that it was switching to steel weights at all 400-plus shops in eight states, including Washington and Idaho. As part of a legal settlement in a case brought by environmental groups, several major manufacturers have agreed to stop using lead weights in California by the end of this year.

Campbell's bill would apply to weights installed on new tires or changed during routine tire maintenance. Businesses, rather than vehicle owners, will be responsible for replacing the old weights with safer equivalents. There are exceptions for large-diameter tires and vehicles with gross weights over 14,000 pounds.

Tire businesses that illegally install lead weights could be fined up to $500.

"We think that there will be pretty good compliance with this," said Rep. Phil Rockefeller, D-Bainbridge Island.

Campbell said the steel weights are usually a non-rusting alloy.

"But even if rust occurred, it would not be significant in the lifetime of the weight," he said. "It also would not be a bio-toxin like lead."

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.