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Copper brake restriction may be new normal

Keywords: Tags  Better Brakes Law, auto brake pads, Ann Wilson, Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, Jim Capizzi, Sunny USA, Rick Jamieson, ABS Friction Samuel Frizell

NEW YORK — A Washington state law set to take effect Jan. 1 will restrict copper usage in automobile brake pads and likely affect copper and brake manufacturing across the country, industry leaders said.

Dubbed the Better Brakes Law, the new legislation requires auto parts manufacturers to cut the amount of copper in brake pads to less than 5 percent of weight by 2021 in order to prevent copper runoff from entering waterways. Manufacturers of friction brakes are required to report copper concentrations in their brakes by Jan. 1.

The law will have nationwide repercussions, analysts said, with brake manufacturers cutting down on copper usage at an industry level to accommodate automobile consumers in Washington and California, where a similar law was enacted in 2010.

"We’re going to see vehicle manufacturers and brake manufacturers complying with (the regulation) on a national level," Ann Wilson, senior vice president of government affairs at the Motor and Equipment Manufacturers Association, told AMM.

Copper fiber suppliers say that producers will have to scramble to find a replacement material with the same noise-canceling and non-corrosive properties of copper.

"It’s definitely going to be an issue, and there’s going to have to be some proactive attempts to produce a copper fiber replacement that’s either lower-copper or no-copper," said Jim Capizzi, sales manager for Sterling Heights, Mich.-based metal fibers producer Sunny USA Inc. "How are we going to do that? I’ll be honest with you: I don’t have a clue."

The legislation followed environmental studies indicating that copper runoff from auto brake pads harms fish in the state’s waters.

Ian Wesley, the Washington State Department of Ecology’s coordinator for the Better Brakes Law, told AMM that copper can disrupt aquatic ecosystems and reduce the ability of fish such as salmon to smell. "There’s a lot of research that’s been done by NOAA (the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) to look at low-level effects of copper on salmon and other fish," he said. "It doesn’t take much copper to have low-level effects."

Wilson said that brake manufacturers generally were supportive of the law and helped collaborate on the specifics of the legislation. Some brake producers, however, are concerned about the effects of the law on the industry.

"Copper is a very nice material to use in a brake pad," Rick Jamieson, chief executive officer of Guelph, Ontario-based ABS Friction Inc., told AMM. "The industry does use quite a bit of copper."

Industry sources declined to disclose how much copper is used in brake pads.

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