Auto Service World
Feature   October 1, 2012   by Tom Venetis, Editor

Putting the Brakes on Copper

New laws look to do away with copper and regulate other compounds in brake formulations

New laws being passed in California and Washington State will permanently change friction formulations for cars and light-duty vehicles over the next 15-20 years.

Known as ‘Better Brake Laws,’ California and Washington State are proposing to reduce the use of toxic materials in automotive brake pads and shoes. The materials to be governed are a combination of heavy metals and copper.

The new laws have broad industry support, with the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association through the Brake Manufacturers Association and the Heavy Duty Brake Manufacturers Association working closely with state legislators to develop the laws.

A Closer Look at the Laws

The Washington State Department of Ecology website ( offers a useful summary of the major provisions of the law for the state:

Brake pads and shoes manufactured after January 1, 2015, must not contain asbestos, hexavalent chromium, mercury, cadmium or lead. Auto shops and other distributors of brakes will be able to sell any existing inventory for ten years.

Brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2021, must not contain more than five per cent copper by weight.

Beginning in 2015, Ecology will review relevant information and consult with a committee of experts to determine if alternative brake friction materials, containing less than 0.5 per cent copper, are available.

Eight years after Ecology determines that alternative brake friction materials are available, brake pads containing more than 0.5 per cent copper may not be sold in the state.

Brake manufacturers will use accredited laboratories and certify to Ecology that their brake pads and shoes comply with the law and will mark proof of certification on all pads and packaging offered for sale in Washington.

Ecology will track data provided by manufacturers to ensure that concentrations of nickel, zinc, and antimony in automobile brake pads do not increase by more than 50 per cent.

The law in California is largely the same, except for some differences in the timing of when copper has to be eliminated from friction formulations, and Washington State’s law has a provision that manufacturers meet the 0.5 per cent copper or less restriction eight years from the date that experts say an alternative to copper becomes available.

What is key is the regulation and eventual near elimination of copper from brake friction formulations.

Ian Wesley, better brake rule coordinator, Washington State Department of Ecology, Hazardous Waste and Toxics Reduction says the laws in Washington State and in California came about in an effort to reduce harmful metals and copper from entering the watershed, and streams and rivers. High levels of copper are known to cause damage to fragile aquatic ecosystems and fish. A study in Ecological Applications finds small amounts of copper in water can cause the deadening of a salmon’s sense of smell. This makes the salmon more susceptible to certain kinds of predators as smell is the salmon’s means of detecting them.

Cities to the south of San Francisco found that they were having difficulty meeting the Clean Water Act requirements since the 1990s, specifically in reducing the levels of copper coming from urban runoff entering San Francisco Bay.

Studies undertaken in both states discovered dust produced when braking is one of several sources of copper showing up in the runoff.

“The Brake Pad Partnership in California spent a decade researching the link between pollution and copper coming from brakes,” Wesley adds. “They concluded that a little bit less than half of the copper entering San Francisco bay is coming from brake pads; and we have estimates here (for Puget Sound) that are just a little bit lower. Either way, brake pads count for a significant source of copper.”

The Brake Pad Partnership, made up of representatives from the automotive industry, friction manufacturers, environmental groups, storm water agencies and representatives of coastal cities, proposed that the most effective means of tackling the copper problem was a gradual, phased-in reduction of copper used in brake friction materials.

Ann Wilson, senior vice-president of government affairs for the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association says “one of our primary issues, as we represent manufacturers of brake materials, is that we have sufficient time to work with our entire customer base — aftermarket and OE makers — to make sure there is an adequate supply of brake material out there.”

What friction manufacturers needed to be assured of was that a system was going to be put into place where the existing brake friction products could be ‘flushed’ from inventories as new friction materials were added that matched the guidelines set out by Washington State and California, while at the same time ensuring the new low-copper friction products meet the performance requirements of vehicle owners, OE vehicle makers and aftermarket suppliers of friction.

How will copper be phased out?

Washington State’s Department of Ecology and the California Department of Toxic Substances Control, along with brake friction manufacturers, all agreed to develop a common set of reliable test methods for determining the concentrations of copper and the levels of the other materials to be regulated. The testing method agreed to is SAE 2975 and this testing will be used by the friction manufacturers to self-certify compliance with the laws of the two states.

NSF International ( has been charged with helping friction manufacturers show they are compliant with the new state regulations, having the support of brake producers, the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMS) and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association and the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association. In a statement released to the press by the Brake Manufacturers Council, NSF International will act as the third-party registrar to verify which friction materials do not exceed the allowable limits of regulated material and to publicly list friction materials complying with the laws.

Bob Frayer, director of Engineering Laboratories and Automotive Aftermarket Certification Programs with NSF International, says friction manufacturers selling into Washington State will first submit their current friction products to NSF International to establish a baseline of the materials used in brake products. The date for that is January 1, 2013.

“The baseline data is to give the state a snapshot of the materials that are currently out there, and the percentages of the materials,” adds Dave Schenk, engineer with NSF International. “Those baselines will be used to monitor that the materials are being reduced in accord with the timeline.”

The Brake Manufacturers Council, in an effort to help consumers know that the brakes they are putting on their vehicles are in compliance with the new regulations, created a new set of trademarks called LeafMarks. These will be visible on brake packaging and on the brakes themselves, and NSF International has been granted the right to authorize the use of the LeafMark to manufacturers in compliance with the testing standards.

The LeafMark has three leaves: a single darkened leaf, Level “A”, regulates cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and asbestos; two darkened leaves, Level “B”, is the same as Level “A”, but copper must be less than five weight per cent; and three darkened leaves, Level “N”, is the same as Level “B”, only copper must be less than 0.5 weight per cent.

What This Means for the Aftermarket?

When SSGM contacted several major aftermarket brake makers and suppliers, all said they are enthusiastic about the new regulations and have already started developing new friction formulations to sell under the new regulations for Washington State and California. All say the new friction materials will meet the same performance specifications as today’s friction materials, specifically in the areas of low noise, dust and heat distribution.

“I believe the consumer will not see any impact on performance with these new formulations,” says Fabio Jurchaks, sales and engineering manager with Fras-le. “By the time the new products come up, the formulations will have the same performance as we have today. Consumers should see no difference.”

All the friction makers also say while the regulations are for Washington State and California, the brake materials made for those states will be available nation-wide. Brake manufacturers will not be making products for sale in Washington State and California with one kind of formulation and then another for all other states. The same will happen with aftermarket brake products with all new products conforming to the new regulations regardless of where the products are sold.

Print this page


Have your say:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *