Today's Debris Haul Weighs on Me

Today's haul of debris in or near the bike lane was substantial.

That big hunk of steel is a tire puncture waiting to happen, as are the screw and the masonry anchor. And the battery, while less toxic than the old days, is still not something that should be in the street.

But far more impressive: four lead wheel weights. These can get knocked off when the car wheel goes in a pothole, and Seattle has plenty of potholes, but Dexter was repaved only about a year ago, so it's not potholes. Mostly, I reckon, people knock one of these weights off when they hit the curbs a bit hard while parking.

Rain will wash glass into the storm sewer, but lead weights are too dense for that to be likely. Streetsweepers clean Seattle streets infrequently if at all, so the weights hang around, getting run over, bouncing around near the gutter. All that abuse wears off lead as dust, until eventually the weight breaks up and gets washed into the storm sewer, where I suppose it eventually ends up in the Sound.

This grieves me. Heavy metal pollution is one of the least-fixable pollution problems in the Sound. But moreover, where does that lead dust go? Into our yards, and homes, and into us. As a recent article makes clear, our current lead exposure, while much lower than in the past, is still far higher than is healthy. Moreover, lead persists in the environment for a very long time.

So why are lead wheel weights still legal? At the very least, weights on the outside of the rim, which probably fall off as often as not, should not be allowed.

But if we can't outlaw lead wheel weights just yet, maybe we at least ought to sweep them up before they pollute our city?

Update: My friend Geoff Hazel points out that installing new lead wheel weights is already illegal in Washington State, as well as California and a few other states. Of course, it will take a while for these lead weights to disappear, and it will take much, much longer for the lead dust in the environment to go where it's going to go. But this is progress.

No comments: