Thursday, November 1, 2012

Toxics ban promotes innovative design, gives salmon a brake

By Ken Zarker, Ecology Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction

Like most people, I generally don’t spend a lot of time thinking about brake pads. Brakes are critical to our safety and vehicle performance. But it wasn’t until 2010 that I learned brake pads on our cars and trucks are a source of toxic chemical pollution. Every time we tap on the brakes, the resulting “brake dust” residue ends up on our streets and highways. This dust contains toxic metals, including copper. These toxics mix with rainfall and wash into our rivers, lakes and estuaries.

The Elemental Problem - Copper

The copper that ends up in streams, rivers and coastal waters can be toxic to tiny aquatic organisms like phytoplankton, which make up the bottom of the food chain; their health affects entire ecosystems. Copper is highly toxic to fish, especially to salmon. Even very low levels of copper impair salmon's sense of smell, making them vulnerable to predators and unable to find their way back to their spawning streams.

Taking Action

An Ecology scientific research study estimated that about 80,000 pounds of copper are released into Puget Sound per year. And brake pads are one of the largest sources of copper pollution to Puget Sound. As a result, the Legislature stepped forward in 2010 and passed a bill that set a goal to develop “better brakes” that are safe and better for the environment. Using a collaborative stakeholder approach, Ecology was able to work with the automotive industry, small businesses, trade associations, environmental organizations and government to produce an innovative approach to solving the problem.

Green through Green Chemistry

Creating better brakes is one example of how industrial designers are able to reformulate a product without sacrificing brake performance or safety. It’s a credit to all those involved for coming forward with a collaborative approach that will transform the global marketplace for the better. I often use this as an example of how we can use green chemistry as a multi-disciplinary approach to the creation of safer products.

No comments: