Policy Update

Washington First State to Regulate Copper Brake Pads



NCEL Point of Contact

Ava Gallo
Climate and Energy Program Manager


Washington is the first state to phase out the use of copper and other toxics in car and truck brake pads. Last week, Governor Chris Gregoire signed into law SB6557, sponsored by NCEL participant Senator Kevin Ranker.

“The final legislation received support from a wide range of stakeholders including the Department of Ecology, environmental community, automakers and brake pad manufacturers. This first-in-the-nation [law] can now serve as a model for all other states,” reads a press release from the Alliance of Automobile Manufactures.

The law does the following:

• Beginning in 2014, sale of pads containing more than trace amounts of asbestos, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury is banned. Pads manufactured prior to 2015 are exempt to permit clearing of inventory until 2025.

• Beginning in 2021, sale of pads containing more than 5 percent copper is banned. Pads manufactured prior to 2021 are exempt to allow clearing of inventory until 2031.

• By December 1, 2015, the Department of Ecology must determine whether pads containing no more than 0.5 percent copper may be available. If Ecology finds that low-copper pads may be available, and after convening a Brake Friction Material Advisory Committee to assess availability of low-copper pads, the sale of pads containing more than 0.5 percent copper is banned 8 years after Ecology makes its determination that alternatives are available. So the earliest that pads containing more than 0.5 percent copper could be banned is 2025.

While copper-free brake pads already exist for semi-trailers and airplanes, the automobile industry needs at least 5 years lead time to develop copper-free brake pads for cars, according to news reports.

Copper from brake pads flakes off under normal use and falls onto the road way. It is then washed into nearby bodies of water via storm water runoff. Copper, at higher concentrations, is dangerous to fish and other aquatic life. Washington’s new law aims to protect salmon and other aquatic life important to the state. The copper can interfere with a salmon’s sense of smell, which is used when they return upstream to spawn and to avoid predators. The state estimates that 70,000 to 320,000 pounds of copper are washed into Puget Sound each year, reports Sightline.org.

SB6557 bill was sponsored by NCEL participants Senators Ranker, Phil Rockefeller, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Karen Fraser. The companion House bill, HB3018, was sponsored by NCEL participants Representatives Maralyn Chase, Dave Upthegrove, Hans Dunshee, and Tom Campbell.

In 2009, California NCEL participants Senator Christine Kehoe and Senator Joe Simitian sponsored similar legislation, SB346, to reduce the amount of copper in brake pads. The bill has yet to pass the legislature.

A copy of Washington’s SB6557 and its final bill report describing the bill is attached. For more information on copper brakes, visit these links:

Information on the bill: