Brake makers gear up to phase out heavy metals

First part of Washington law requiring pad makeup report of goes into effect Jan. 1

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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.