EPA, auto industry agree to cut copper in brake pads

David Shepardson
Detroit News Washington Bureau

Washington — The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the automotive industry and the states signed an agreement Tuesday to dramatically reduce the use of copper in motor vehicle brake pads — a move that will reduce pollution in U.S. streams, rivers and lakes.

The deal also calls for cutting the amount of mercury, lead, cadmium, asbestiform fibers and chromium-6 salts in vehicle brake pads. Runoff from the materials can harm fish, amphibians and plants, EPA said. The deal cuts copper use to 5 percent of pads by 2021 and 0.5 percent by 2025.

The national agreement comes after two states have mandated reductions. California and Washington have adopted legal requirements to reduce these materials in brake pads.

Manufacturer brake pad sales in North America were about 89.2 million units in 2013, research firm Frost & Sullivan said in a report.

EPA said that before the rules, dust from vehicle braking released an estimated 1.3 million pounds of copper into California’s environment in 2010 and about 250,000 pounds into Washington’s environment in 2011. With changes mandated in California already, copper in urban runoff is down as much as 61 percent because of changes in brake pad composition.

“EPA is proud to partner with the automotive industry and the states to reduce the use of copper in motor vehicle brake pads, which means less of this material running off our roads and into our nation’s waterways,” said Stan Meiburg, acting deputy EPA administrator. “The environment and public health in our country will benefit from this type of collaboration between the public and private sector.”

Parts makers also praised the deal. The agreement “will provide the motor vehicle industry with consistent copper reduction guidelines and eliminate the potential for disparate state regulations,” said Steve Handschuh, president and CEO of the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association. “This has been a proactive, collaborative effort by regulatory agencies, states and the motor vehicle industry to reduce copper in U.S. streams, rivers and waterways.”

Under the agreement, additional testing of friction materials for alternatives will be conducted.

Along with EPA and the Environmental Council of the States, eight industry groups signed the initiative: Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association; Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association; Brake Manufacturers Council; Heavy Duty Manufacturers Association; Auto Care Association; Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Association of Global Automakers Inc.; and the Truck and Engine Manufacturers Association.