Brake manufacturers gearing up to meet new state law

SEATTLE — Manufacturers of brake pads are gearing up to meet a first-in-the-nation Washington state law requiring they phase out the use of copper and other heavy metals.

Washington in 2010 banned the use of copper in brake pads, as a way to prevent the metal from polluting waters and harming fish. When brakes wear down, they release copper shavings onto roads and are eventually washed into rivers, where state officials say it could harm marine life, especially salmon.

“We’re hoping that people will be ready to certify their products soon,” said Ian Wesley, the law’s coordinator. He added: “I’m expecting that people will want to certify quickly.”

The first phase of the law takes effect Jan. 1, when manufacturers of friction brakes will be required to report the concentrations of heavy metals such as copper, zinc or nickel in their products.

Brake pads manufactured after 2015 may not contain asbestos, mercury, cadmium or other heavy metals. By 2021, brake pads must contain less than five percent copper. The allowable amount of copper could drop almost to zero in 2023 if manufacturers show it is possible.

California passed a similar law in September 2010. California’s law requires brake pad manufacturers to reduce copper in brake pads sold in that state to no more than 5 percent by 2021, and no more than 0.5 percent by 2025.

The laws in Washington and California will likely mean that copper-free pads will become the industry standard in the U.S.

“Once California passed their law, it became obvious that that will be the national standard,” said Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs with Motor &Equipment Manufacturers Association, which represents manufacturers of motor vehicle parts and systems for use in light- and heavy-duty vehicles.

Industry officials say it is possible some manufacturers will begin to market brake pads with lower amounts of copper ahead of those deadlines.

“You’ll see a number of manufacturers try to get the appropriate product out there as soon as they possibly can. Some may make it before the deadline,” Wilson said. “I think consumers are going to start seeing product out there in fairly short order.”

In Washington, brake manufacturers must use accredited laboratories and self-certify to the state that their brake pads comply with the law. All brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2015, must be marked on both the pad and its packaging.

Both states have agreed on a common marking system that will be used to identify compliant products, according to the state.

The Brake Manufacturers Council is developing a set of trademarks to show brakes and brake packaging are compliant with different phases of the laws, said Bill Hanvey, vice president of programs and member services with the Automotive Aftermarket Supply Association.

Many brake pads are made of steel, brass and copper fibers — materials designed to create friction and draw off heat. Some contain ceramics, Kevlar and other nonmetallic compounds. Some already contain zero or low amounts of copper.

Copper is a major source of water pollution. A Washington state study found that pesticides, brake pads and copper plumbing release the most copper into the Puget Sound basin.

Copper is particularly harmful to the sensory systems of salmon. Copper reduces the ability of young salmon to escape from predators and it hinders adult salmon from finding their spawning streams. These toxic effects limit the abundance of salmon returning to our fisheries and spawning grounds.

In 2011, the state also banned copper-based bottom paint on recreational boats, or those 65 feet and under. New recreational boats with copper-based bottom paint may not be sold in Washington state after Jan. 1, 2018, and the sale of paint with more than 0.5 percent copper is prohibited on boats as of 2020.

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