California’s Copper-Free Brake Pad Initiative — Why It Matters

| January 2, 2013

california copper free brakes Who doesn’t admire the salmon’s uncanny ability to find its way back home? Yet the cars we drive are affecting their ability to perform this amazing feat. That’s why California and a number of other states have introduced legislation to outlaw copper from brake pads. Auto parts stores — the kind you’ll find listed on DexKnows — know about the move to copper-free brake pads, even though you might not be aware of this issue.

Why Put Copper in Brake Pads?

Brake pads bring your car or truck to rest by using friction to convert kinetic energy to heat. The pad material is a complex mixture engineered to provide friction while minimizing squealing and vibration. During the 1990s, brake pad manufacturers started adding copper to this mix because it improves these properties and conducts heat away from the interface with the brake rotor.

What’s the Problem?

Over time, this friction material wears away. Some ends up on your wheels, which is why they get so dirty, and some settles on impervious surfaces — like concrete — where rain washes the residue into the storm water system. In California (and many other states), this runoff ends up in streams, rivers and ultimately the oceans.

During the 1990s, studies about the San Francisco Bay Area waterways determined that the levels of waterborne copper were increasing — and that dust from brake pads was one of the major contributors.

Once in the water system, copper kills the algae at the bottom of the food chain. And if that dies off, so does everything that feeds on it. Copper harms fish, too, especially salmon; it affects their sensory systems, putting them at greater risk from predators and reducing their ability to find their way back to their spawning grounds.

A Cooperative Process

Brake pad manufacturers, state regulators and environmental groups came together in the Brake Pad Partnership to work out how to address this problem. Once it was accepted that brake pads were the culprit, the group moved quickly to request legislation that created a level playing field for all manufacturers. This culminated in then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signing Senate Bill (SB) 346 into law Sept. 27, 2010. SB 346 requires that brake pad manufacturers eliminate copper from their products by 2025, this being thought as enough time to develop alternatives.

Copper-Free Brake Pads

Leading manufacturers such as Honeywell and Federal-Mogul are working to eliminate the copper from their pads. Some copper-free pads, such as the EcoStop ceramic brake pads from FDP, are already on the market. Check their websites or ask at the auto parts store for details.

Beyond California

As is often the case, where the Golden State leads, others follow. Washington state has adopted similar legislation, limiting copper content to no more than 5 percent by weight by 2012 and requiring less than 0.5 percent as soon as “alternative brake friction materials are available.” Meanwhile, S1356-2011 is working its way through the New York legislature. Similar moves are underway in Oregon and Rhode Island. And since the manufacturers are unlikely to develop different brake pads for each state, it’s safe to assume that some time in the next decade, copper will disappear from brake pads altogether.

If you’re concerned about the environmental impact of brake pads, ask about going copper-free at the auto parts store. You’ll find them listed on the DexKnows website.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Category: Auto Maintenance, Auto Parts, Auto Repair, Autos

About the Author ()

After twenty years in the automobile industry the craft of wordsmith called. Putting down the wrench, Nigel picked up a keyboard on which to express his passion for all things automotive.