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EPA, ECOS and Motor Vehicle Industry Associations to sign memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the reduction of copper in brake pads

On Wednesday 21 January, representatives of the US Environment Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and motor vehicle industry associations will sign a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agency and the motor vehicle industry for the reduction of copper in brake pads. The signing will take place in conjunction with the SAE 2015 Government/Industry Meeting.

The MOU will provide the motor vehicle industry with consistent copper reduction guidelines, eliminate disparate state regulations and create a level playing field for brake product manufacturers. The MOU is the result of a collaborative effort between the regulatory agency and the motor vehicle industry.

Background. Asbestos fibers originally were used in brakes to control the high heat created by friction. When asbestos was determined to be a health hazard, the EPA proposed a ban of nearly all products containing asbestos in 1986. Members of the Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) voluntarily discontinued the use of asbestos in brake friction products.

Brake manufacturers found an alternative to asbestos in copper and by the early 1990s, the element was a common component in brake products. Copper transfers heat efficiently and helps brakes’ effectiveness in cold weather; it also has properties that help prevent brakes from squeaking and shuddering when used.

In the early 1990s, cities south of San Francisco were having trouble meeting Clean Water Act (CWA) requirements to reduce copper in urban runoff flowing into San Francisco Bay. Preliminary studies indicated that brake pads were a significant source of copper in that runoff. Tiny amounts of copper fall onto the streets and parking lots every time drivers step on their brakes. Subsequent studies indicated that copper from brake pads accounted for anywhere from 35 to 60% of copper in California’s urban watershed run-off.

In 2010, California and Washington passed laws mandating a reduction in the amount of copper used in automotive brake pads (SB346 for California, SB6557 for Washington). Both bills mandated that brake pads sold in each state contain no more than a 0.5% of copper by weight and must meet all applicable safety standards.

The laws differ in timing. In California, the law takes effect in no later than Jan. 1, 2025. The Washington law includes a provision that manufacturers will meet the 0.5% restriction eight years from the date that safety and environmental experts deem a viable alternative is available.


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