Picture taken by Kim Clark, 2009

Hazardous Waste & Toxics Reduction

Frequently Asked Questions on Better Brakes Rule

Why is this law important? Answer...

Each time a driver uses their brakes, a small amount of copper and other metals are deposited on roadways from the brake pad. These metals then wash into our streams and rivers. With millions of drivers using their brakes each day, these small amounts significantly impact our waterways, including Puget Sound. Copper is very toxic to aquatic life and brake pads account for up to half of the copper entering our water in urban areas.

This law also helps protect the health of people who install and replace brake pads by prohibiting the sale of asbestos-containing brake pads. Many people are unaware that some brake pads contain asbestos and that these pads are still legally sold in Washington State. Hide this content.

Are alternative brake pads safe? Answer...

Yes. Brake manufacturers have assured Ecology that they can make low-copper, asbestos-free pads that are just as safe, effective, and reliable as their high-copper counterparts. Hide this content.

When does this law take effect? Answer...

The provisions of this law are phased in over many years. Beginning in 2013, manufacturers will be required to report the concentrations of several metals in brake pads sold in Washington State. Brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2015, may not contain asbestos or several heavy metals. By 2021, brake pads must contain less than five percent copper. Hide this content.

Why does it take so long for these requirements to take effect? Answer...

This law is the result of lengthy negotiations between the braking industry and environmental groups. Both groups support the final outcome, which gives the braking industry adequate time to develop, manufacture, and safety-test new brake pad formulations for the full range of vehicle models and types.Hide this content.

Why is copper in brakes a problem? Answer...

As brake pads wear down, they deposit small amounts of copper on the road, where it is washed down storm drains and into our streams and rivers. In urban areas, brake pads account for up to half of the copper entering our waterways. Copper is highly toxic to fish, invertebrates, amphibians, and phytoplankton. It is particularly harmful to the sensory systems of threatened and endangered salmon. Copper reduces the ability of young salmon to escape from predators and it hinders adult salmon from finding their spawning streams. These toxic effects limit the abundance of salmon returning to our fisheries and spawning grounds.Hide this content.

What are other sources of copper? Answer...

As part of an effort to control the release of toxic chemicals to Puget Sound, Ecology conducted a study that estimated the release of copper and other harmful chemicals to Puget Sound.  This study found that pesticides, brake pads, and copper plumbing were the three sources that release the most copper to the Puget Sound basin.  For details and a list of additional sources please see the report: Primary Sources of Selected Toxic Chemicals and Quantities Released in the Puget Sound Basin Hide this content.

What is the alternative to copper in brake pads? Answer...

The chemistry and science behind making a brake pad is complex - some pads have 30 or more constituents. There will be many different ways to reduce the copper content of pads. For example some pads may only need to substitute another metal for copper, while other pads may require more complicated reformulations.Hide this content.

How much will the alternatives cost? Answer...

It is difficult to estimate the cost of low-copper brake pads. Costs will vary significantly depending on the type of pad and the vehicle it is intended for. Ecology has been told that by the time the law is implemented the price of the new materials should be comparable to existing products.Hide this content.

Does the braking industry support this law? Answer...

Yes, the braking industry supports this law. Industry has been involved in conducting research and analyzing this problem for more than a decade. During the mid-1990’s, the Brake Pad Partnership (BPP) was formed. The BPP was a cooperative effort between industry, government, and non-profits to investigate copper in brake pads. This group determined that brake pads were a significant source of copper and that the copper was harming the environment. At that time, many manufacturers wanted to phase-out copper. However, they were also concerned that some of their competitors would not invest the time and effort in reformulating their products – they feared this would put them at a competitive disadvantage. The BPP decided that the best course of action was to support legislation requiring the phase-out of copper. Hide this content.

Which types of brakes are required to comply with the law? Answer...

In general, most disc and drum brakes that are used on licensed motor vehicles are required to comply with the law.  However, some brakes for use on certain vehicles are exempted from the law.  These include brakes used on motorcycles, collector cars, trailers, off-road vehicles, and military combat vehicles.  For details regarding which brakes are required to comply with the law please refer to the Better Brakes Law and Rule. Hide this content.

California has a similar law, are the requirements of the Washington and California laws the same? Answer...

Ecology has worked very closely with our partners in California to implement the Better Brakes Law.  The  laws have many similarities; however the precise requirements vary between the two states.  The states have agreed on a common marking system that will be used to identify compliant products.  In general, products that have been marked with proof of certification may be sold in both states.  Hide this content.

How will I know if the brake pads I purchase or sell are compliant with the law?  How will they be marked? Answer...

All brake pads manufactured after January 1, 2015, must be marked on both the pad and its packaging. The packaging must be marked with a registered certification mark that will be designed by the brake manufacturing industry.  Brake pads must also be marked with a unique code, commonly called an “edge code,” that ends in a letter indicating the level of environmental compliance followed by the last two digits of the year the product was manufactured.  Hide this content.

What  method will Ecology use to test brake pads to determine if they comply with the law? Answer...

Ecology partnered with the California Department of Toxic Substances Control and brake friction material manufacturers to develop a reliable test method for determining the concentrations of copper and the other regulated constituents in brake friction materials.  This testing method is known as SAE 2975.  It is the same testing method that manufacturers will use to self-certify compliance with the law.  Hide this content.

What effect does the law have on original equipment replacement parts? Answer...

If original equipment replacement brakes use the same brake friction material formulation that originally came with a vehicle manufactured before the effective dates in the law, it is exempt from some of the requirements.  This is to ensure that consumers have access to the same brake pad that came with the motor vehicle they purchased.Hide this content.

May non-compliant brakes  be sold into the state over the internet? Answer...

No, this is a violation of the law.  A company that sells brake pads into the state that do not comply with the requirements of the law may be fined.  It is also a violation of the law to resell these products within Washington state.Hide this content.

What should I do if I am sold a product that does not comply with the requirements of the law? Answer...

Please report the violation to Ecology.  The appropriate contact person may be found on the bottom of this page.Hide this content.

Questions and Answers for Installers and Retailers

What can I do with pads that have copper or other regulated constituents once the bill goes into effect? Answer...

Brake pads manufactured before 2015 containing copper or other regulated constituents may be sold or installed on vehicles normally until January 1, 2025. Hide this content.

Since brake pads are not currently marked, what can I do with these unmarked products? Answer...

Unmarked products may be sold until January 1, 2025.  After this date all products must be marked with proof of certification. Hide this content.

Are low- and no-copper pads currently available? Answer...

Yes. Low- and no-copper brakes are currently available.  If you are not already stocking low/no-copper pads you may want to consider offering a low/no-copper product. There are several companies that are making and selling brake pads that contain no copper. However, for many products it can still be difficult to find out which pads have copper or other toxic constituents and manufacturers may be reluctant to reveal the content of their pads. You should also be aware that there are companies that advertise their products as environmentally friendly, yet when they are asked, they will tell you their pads do contain copper. Until products are marked, it is best to be cautious and ask manufacturers and suppliers directly if their pads contain copper or other toxic substances.Hide this content.

What happens if I sell or install a pad that is in violation of the law? Answer...

The intention of the law is to shift responsibility towards manufacturers of brake pads and most of the requirements of the law fall on them. The enforcement provisions of this law require Ecology to provide a written warning, information, and assistance prior to issuing any penalties. If a retailer or distributor is found to be selling pads that violate the law, Ecology will assist and advise them on how to comply. Ecology will then investigate and notify the company who first sold these pads into Washington state. This distributor or manufacturer will then be notified that they sold pads in violation of the law. People that repeatedly violate the law and have received warnings and guidance will be subject to penalties. If a distributor or retailer is sold brakes that do not comply with the law, the manufacturer or distributor may be required to recall the brake pads and/or provide a full refund. Hide this content.

For more information

Contacts

Ian Wesley, Better Brakes Rule coordinator: iwes461@ecy.wa.gov or Phone: (360) 407-6747
Kathy Davis, Ecology media relations: kada461@ecy.wa.gov

 

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