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Picture taken by Kim Clark, 2009

Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction

Better Brakes Law

Now available!
Better Brakes Legislative Report - Washington's Better Brakes Law: A national model for improving water quality

In 2010 Washington passed a law reducing the use of toxic material in automotive brake pads and shoes. This law restricts the use of several heavy metals and asbestos, beginning in 2015, and provides a phase out of copper. Vehicle brake pads manufactured after 2021 must contain less than five percent copper. By 2025, brake pads must contain less than 0.5 percent copper.

Why Copper?

Although the Better Brakes Law requires manufacturers to reduce or eliminate several toxic chemicals, the major focus is on copper. As brake pads wear down, copper and other metals are deposited on roadways, where they are washed into our streams and rivers.

Picture of car brake pads.
A pair of disc brake pads. Flecks of copper can be seen in the upper pad, while the lower pad is copper-free.

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.

Major sources of copper in the environment are household pesticides, water pipes, and vehicle brake pads. In urban areas, brake pads account for up to half of the copper entering our waterways - an estimated 60,000 kilograms of copper a year enters Puget Sound from vehicle brake pads. When Washington's Better Brakes Law is fully implemented in 2025, this source of copper will be virtually eliminated.

A Cooperative Effort, A National Model

In implementing the Better Brakes Law, the Department of Ecology worked closely with brake manufacturers, retailers and distributors, environmental groups, and the State of California, which has a similar law.

In January 2015, the manufacturers signed a memorandum of agreement with the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Environmental Council of the States to adopt standards based on Washington and California’s brake laws. This means that every new brake pad sold in the United States will meet Washington’s standards for copper and other toxic chemicals.

Vehicle brakes are, of course, essential to the safety of every driver and passenger on the road. Also, brake manufacturers sell their products globally and have relatively long product design cycles. In implementing the Better Brakes program, Ecology and the brake manufacturers agreed on an approach that protects the public and the environment.

Brake manufacturers report that they are on track to beat the target dates for implementing the Better Brakes Law.

Look for the Leaf

The Brake Manufacturers Council adopted the LeafMark to inform customers whether a brake pad meets the Better Brake standards. The darker the leaf, the more levels of compliance the pad meets:
Level A: limits levels of asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury.
Level B: includes all the requirements of Level A and copper levels must be less than five percent by weight.
Level N: includes all requirements of Level A and copper levels must be less than 0.5 percent by weight.

Brake pads meeting the Level N 0.5 percent copper standard are already available for many vehicles. When you are replacing the brake pads on your car or truck, Ecology encourages you to ask about these low-copper products.

Major provisions of the Better Brakes Law

  • 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 10 years.
  • Brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2021 must not contain more than five percent copper by weight.
  • Beginning in 2015, Ecology reviewed relevant information and consulted with a committee of experts to determine that alternative brake friction materials containing less than 0.5 percent copper were available, meaning that a complete phase-out of copper was feasible.
  • In 2025, eight years after Ecology made the determination that alternative brake friction materials were available, brake pads containing more than 0.5 percent copper may not be sold in Washington.
  • 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 percent.

Better Brakes Rule

The Better Brakes Law directs Ecology to develop rules to implement the law.  On October 19, 2012, Ecology adopted the Better Brake Rule, Chapter 173-901 WAC.

For more information


Ian Wesley, Better Brakes Rule coordinator: iwes461@ecy.wa.gov or 360-407-6747.