The “Give Water a Brake!” campaign seeks to ban copper in automotive brake pads. Sign our petition today!

Every time you step on the brake pedal when you’re driving, copper in the form of brake dust is worn off the pads. This eventually winds up in the environment, contaminating our precious water resources.

California and Washington have already passed legislation that will eventually remove all copper from brake pads. The Earthgarage team has created the “Give Water a Brake!” petition. Our goal is to pressure elected officials in the rest of the U.S. and Canada to pass legislation to phase out copper in brake pads.

What You Can Do

Sign our petition using the form on this page. It’s on the right. Let your friends know by posting on Facebook or Twitter.

Environmental Impact

An anadromous fish, born in freshwater, spends most of its life in the sea and returns to freshwater to spawn. Salmon, smelt, shad, striped bass, and sturgeon are common examples.

Many chemicals in polluted runoff, such as copper, directly harm salmon and other fish. Copper interferes with the ability of salmon to smell. They need their sense of smell to avoid being eaten by predators, navigate back to their natal streams to spawn and to find mates.

The consequence has been a massive decrease in the salmon population.

“We’ve learned that adult Coho salmon are dying prematurely in large proportions when they return from the ocean to spawn in Puget Sound urban streams,” said Jay Davis, an environmental toxicologist for the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service. “Although we don’t know the precise cause of these die-offs, the most likely explanation is toxic chemicals in stormwater runoff.” Source: WA Dept. of Ecology

The most common way toxic chemicals get into the environment is through polluted surface water runoff that flows off of residential, commercial and industrial areas. When rain hits roofs, roads, and other hard surfaces in developed areas, it picks up and carries toxic chemicals with it. This polluted water then runs into storm drains and goes, mostly untreated, directly into area lakes, streams and rivers.

Toxic pollutants can threaten environmental and human health. Most don’t break down easily, and they stay in the environment a long time. They can enter waterways and wind up in the bodies of fish, seals, orca whales and even people.

Current Developments

California and Washington have already passed legislation that will eventually remove all copper from brake pads. Rhode Island and New York have introduced similar bills that have not yet been passed. These new bills will eventually rid our precious waterways of the nasty and harmful contaminates that are constantly being deposited into our environment due to traditional brake dust.

On March 19, 2010, in Washington State, the first state to begin the phasing out of hazardous material from brake pads, former Governor Christine Gregoire signed into law Senate Bill (SB)6557. This bill, sponsored by Senator Kevin Ranker, ensures that by the beginning of 2014, the sale of brake pads containing more than trace amounts of asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury will be banned. By 2021, pads are to contain no more than 5% copper, and the bill promises that it will set up an advisory committee to determine whether it is feasible to lower the mandate to no more than 0.5% copper in later years.

On September 27, 2010, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a similar bill into law – Senate Bill (SB)346. This bill promises to phase copper out of vehicle brake pads to make California’s waterways safer for salmon and other species, save the state billions on environmental clean-up costs, and require manufacturers to provide safe and reliable brake pads for consumers. The bill, which was written by Senator Christine Kehoe (D-San Diego), demands the phasing out of copper in brake pads to no more than 5% by 2021, and no more than 0.5% by 2025.

Rhode Island and New York have introduced similar bills that have not yet been passed.

A Brief History of Copper in Brake Pads

Most automobiles manufactured and sold in the U.S. had drum brakes front and rear into the early 1970s. The majority of those drum brake linings were asbestos. A few were made with brass or copper; the ones with copper had very low copper content.

The early disc brake pads also were asbestos and contained very little copper. Due to concerns over environmental issues the industry began to move away from asbestos in the late 1970s and into the 1980s. The next generation of products to gain favor as an asbestos replacement were semi-metallic brake pads. They contained large quantities of steel fiber and iron powder but almost no copper.

In the 1980s while, most of the North American manufacturers were manufacturing without copper the European and Asian manufacturers were using products that contained large amounts of copper, in excess of 12%. During this time the number of import cars sold in America was increasing and the amount of copper in brake pads was increasing.

It would be safe to say that copper in brake pads was largely an imported concept. Today, half the cars sold in America are foreign brands.

Despite the fact that a large percentage of new cars are sold with brakes containing copper, brakes on new cars and dealer service only represent 10% of the overall market. The majority of brakes sold in the U.S. considering OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) and Aftermarket still have no copper. It is estimated that between 60% and & 70% of the brakes sold in the U.S. have no copper.

In the late 1990s products containing ceramic fibers began to gain favor with the OEMs and in the aftermarket. Copper appeared to be the silver bullet that makes ceramic fibers work well in brake pads. As the aftermarket began to emulate the OEM products and ceramic brakes gained favor the amount of copper in brake pads increased. There is a financial incentive to promote ceramic brake pads as they sell for a premium above semi-metallic.

Most brakes sold in the U.S. don’t contain copper; the ones that don’t have to contain copper. There is ample technology to replace the copper in the 30% of the brakes that have copper or use semi-metallic to replace the copper-containing brakes.