Copper in Brake Pads

A California law enacted in 2010, SB 346 (Kehoe) set in place a program that will nearly eliminate copper use in brake pads. This law grew out of a unique collaboration among brake pad manufacturers, government agencies, and environmental groups called the “Brake Pad Partnership,” which was initiated by Dr. Moran and colleagues at the City of Palo Alto in coordination with Stanford University. The Partnership grew with the support of dozens of partners from industry, government, and the environmental community. California water boards and municipalities provided the bulk of the funding support for the Partnership’s groundbreaking scientific work and for the Partnership’s culminating achievement, California Senate Bill 346 (Kehoe, Statutes of 2010). Washington State passed a similar law, also based on the Brake Pad Partnership’s work.

The copper reduction program embodied in SB 346 will cut copper concentrations in urban runoff by more than 50%. Enacting SB 346 into law was truly a landmark event for California municipalities, which stand to save from $50 to $100 billion in copper-related Clean Water Act compliance costs over the next 30 to 40 years.

Department of Toxic Substances Control and Washington Department of Ecology are currently implementing the brake pad copper reduction program. On January 1, 2014, all new brake pads must be certified by a third-party registrar as to their copper content and to verify that they do not contain more than trace concentrations of several toxic metals and asbestos. The list of brake pad certifications is here (note that the “N” certification indicates that the brake pad contains <0.5% copper).

TDC Environmental’s Kelly Moran co-founded the Brake Pad Partnership and served on the Partnership Steering Committee for the entire duration of the project. She currently works for the California Stormwater Quality Association toward ensuring full implementation of the law. She has provided municipalities with quantitative estimates of the copper reductions resulting from the law’s implementation.

Sustainable Conservation, which managed the Brake Pad Partnership for most of its tenure, has background information on its website, including a description of how brake pad copper reductions will benefit salmon in California and the Pacific northwest. Partnership scientific studies are on an archived website here.

The Partnership generated two key urban runoff modeling reports. The Phase 2 report contains the best estimate of brake pad contribution to copper in urban runoff and the time frames for brake pad copper reductions to be reflected in urban waterways.

TDC Environmental compiled the Brake Pad Partnership Technical Reference Library, which is an online collection of literature relevant to the fate, transport, and environmental importance of copper in vehicle brake pads. 
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