Dec. 10, 2015 Copper-free brakes now available in Washington

New brake materials protect salmon while maintaining performance

OLYMPIA – Brake manufacturers have responded to environmental concerns by reformulating their products to reduce or eliminate the use of copper, which is toxic to salmon and other aquatic species. Data gathered by the Washington Department of Ecology shows that more than 3,000 different low-copper or copper-free brakes from more than 100 manufacturers are now available for sale in Washington.

Washington worked with brake manufacturers to design the state’s 2010 Better Brakes Law, which phases out the use of copper and other toxics in brake pads. In early 2015, Washington’s law became the model for a national agreement between the brake manufacturers, states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that will eliminate the use of copper in brakes throughout the country in the coming years.

Based on data reported by manufacturers, Ecology estimates the average concentration of copper in brakes has dropped by nearly 25 percent since 2011. Copper affects fishes’ sense of smell, interfering with their ability to sense predators, and scientists believe it has contributed to the decline of Washington’s salmon runs. Brake pads are a significant source of copper pollution, since dust from brakes is easily washed into streams and lakes.

“This is a great example of how government and industry can collaborate to protect our environment,” said Ecology Director Maia Bellon. “Manufacturers recognized the environmental benefits and worked with us to transition to copper-free alternatives.”

Ecology’s new finding on the availability of copper-free brakes is an important step toward eliminating copper in all vehicle brake pads. In 2016, Ecology will bring together a panel of industry experts, safety regulators and environmental stakeholders to advise the state on whether to go forward with completely eliminating copper in brake pads by 2025.

Consumers can tell whether the brakes they buy for their vehicles meet low-copper or copper-free standards by looking for the LeafMark on the packaging. Brakes with less than 5 percent copper will have two leafs filled in, while those that contain less than 0.5 percent copper will have all three leafs filled in. Brakes manufactured prior to 2015 may not carry the LeafMark.

“Brake manufacturers continue to make significant investments in developing reformulated products that meet the highest safety and performance standards while also reducing copper,” said Leigh Merino, senior director of regulatory affairs for Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents the Brake Manufacturers Council. “This means that copper-free brakes are already available for many cars and trucks, so consumers should ask their repair shop or auto parts store what options are available for their vehicles.”