Wednesday, January 21, 2015

How to find low-copper brake pads

Fish can start breathing a little easier today as automotive industry manufacturers, states and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency signed an agreement to reduce copper in brake pads modeled on Washington's 2010 Better Brakes Law.

Copper is highly toxic to fish and other aquatic species. It interferes with their sense of smell, making them more vulnerable to predators or unable to return to their spawning streams. Young salmon are especially susceptible to the effects of copper.

Vehicle brakes are a major source of copper in the environment, especially in urban areas. An estimated 250,000 pounds of copper enters Washington's waters each year from brake pads, 130,000 pounds of that going into Puget Sound.

Under the Better Brakes Law, manufacturers will reduce copper levels below 5 percent by 2021 and cut copper below 0.5 percent by 2025. Manufacturers report that they expect to beat those dates, without compromising on performance or quality. Results Washington is tracking our progress toward reducing copper in brake pads. 

John Stark, director of the Washington Stormwater Center, said cutting that source of copper will make a difference for salmon.

“Reducing copper levels won’t singlehandedly fix the challenges facing salmon in Puget Sound, but it will remove one of the barriers to their recovery,” Stark said.

But why wait until 2025? For many vehicles, brake pads are already available that meet either the 5 percent or 0.5 percent standard.

If you're buying brake pads or shoes for your car or truck, look at the packaging. Newly manufactured brakes will have a leaf illustration indicating which standard they meet - the more leafs filled in, the more environmentally friendly the brakes are:

In the pictures above, the "A" leaf meets standards for toxic chemicals such as asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury. The "B" leaf meets those standards and contains less than 5-percent copper by weight. The "N" leaf meets the toxics standards and contains less than 0.5-percent copper by weight.


NANOOS PNW said...

Thank you for this great, informative post. The introduction of metals and other contaminants from our roads is a huge issue, but I had no idea that copper from break pads could make such a large impact!

Peter Pasterz said...

This was a misleading Title...this does NOT reveal how to find low copper brake pads. I've called my dealer and auto parts stores, and they do no know of the existence of this letter code program or these products. What WOULD be helpful is a list of actual stores and a list of the manufacturer's products to ask for.

WA Department of Ecology said...

Mr. Pasterz, all brakes manufactured after 2015 will have the LeafMark symbol on the box so customers will know whether the brakes meet the 2021 or 2025 copper content standards of Washington's Better Brakes Law.

Unfortunately, there is not a central database that would allow consumers to search by vehicle for low-copper or copper-free brakes that are available for their car - which is I think what you're asking for. You can, however, ask your auto parts store or mechanic whether there are "B" or "N" certified brakes available for your model.

Andrew Wineke
Washington Department of Ecology

Peter Pasterz said...

Yes, I understand the B and N coding system...however the "counterman" at the parts store and their Manager and my mechanic know nothing about the system and it is not listed on their computer as they search for the part...which is the only information they have on parts. I called several auto parts stores and repair shops, and they knew absolutely nothing about the program. They are reluctant to go climb up the ladder to the shelf and check all 8 sets of brake pads they stock to see if there is an N or B on the box. This is a frustration to both citizens who values salmon and our ecosystems and to repair professionals. This is a missed opportunity for Ecology to show some leadership by working with manufacturer, distributor and the parts and repair community to update their databases and train their staffs in preparation for 2025. Or, at least perhaps hire an intern and have them call the major parts store chains and dealership groups in the state to make a list and post on the web...