On Jan. 21 in Washington, D.C., representatives of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Environmental Council of the States (ECOS) and motor vehicle industry associations signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the agency and the motor vehicle industry for the reduction of copper in brake pads.

This historic event was culmination of efforts spearheaded by MEMA, AASA and the AASA Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) to bring regulatory agencies and industry groups together for the collaborative development of clear guidelines at the national level to reduce copper levels in brakes.

Shown above at the EPA MOU signing event are: (left to right) Bill Hanvey, AASA; Walt Britland, director, aftermarket engineering, Federal-Mogul Friction Products, and vice chairman, AASA Brake Manufacturers Council; Stacy Tatman, Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers; Stan Meiburg, acting deputy assistant administrator of the EPA, signing for EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy; Julia Rege, Association of Global Automakers; Leigh Merino, MEMA; Rachel Herbert, US EPA, Office of Water; William Cooper IV, US EPA/O.R.I.S.E. participant; Aaron Lowe and Sheila Andrews, Auto Care Association.

The EPA MOU signed on Jan. 21 calls for the reduction of the use of copper in brake pads beginning in 2021 to levels less than 5 percent by weight and further reductions to 0.5 percent by the year 2025.

CLICK HERE to view the signed Memorandum of Understanding.

CLICK HERE to view the news announcement of the MOU signing.

CLICK HERE to view the photo gallery from the event.


The Copper Story

BMC: Committed to Vehicle Safety and Environmental Responsibility

Established in 1973, the AASA / MEMA Brake Manufacturers Council (BMC) represents more than 90 percent of brake friction products manufactured and sold in North America.

While functioning in the marketplace as competitors, BMC members work cooperatively to improve their products – enhancing safety and efficiency while minimizing the environmental impact.

A History of Self-Regulation

One of the primary tenants of the BMC is self regulation. An example of this self-regulating spirit is the BMC’s response to the use of asbestos in brakes. 

Until the early 1980s, asbestos was a key ingredient in brake friction. Fibers were used in brakes to control the high heat created by friction. However, asbestos was found to be hazardous to health and the EPA proposed a ban of nearly all products containing asbestos including brake friction in 1986. 

While the EPA ban was challenged and eventually overturned in the courts, members of the BMC pushed forward and voluntarily discontinued the use of asbestos in brake friction products.

The Search for Asbestos Alternatives

While phasing out asbestos, brake manufacturers sought a safer alternative to control extreme heat in brake friction. They found it in copper and by the early 1990s, the element was a common component in brake products.

However, an environmental situation came to light in California in the late 1990s. Environmentalists raised the concern that copper entering the water shed was impacting the state’s eco system. While there are many copper products and by-products in public waterways, the environmentalists contended that brake dust was the largest contributor.

BMC again acted in the spirit of collaboration and self-regulation. Members invested time, money and other resources to determine validity of those claims. The resulting research showed that brake dust was one contributor to copper in the California waterways – although it was never determined whether brake products were the largest contributor.

BMC members formed its Product Environment Committee (PEC) in the new millennium to address these concerns. Comprised of top engineers and scientists from BMC member companies, the PEC worked with state agencies to protect the environment.

State Laws and Substitutes for Copper

Through present day, BMC members have performed as good corporate citizens – working with state agencies to address environmental concerns, searching for copper substitutes in friction products and maintaining safe vehicle systems. But, in spite of its efforts and cooperation, California introduced legislation to ban copper in 2010. Similar legislation soon followed in Washington state.

The BMC and its parent associations – the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association (MEMA) and the Automotive Aftermarket Suppliers Association (AASA) – immediately went to work with legislators in both states. As a result, laws were passed in both California and Washington that protect the environment while allowing brake manufacturers to continue the search for safe, effective alternatives to copper in brakes.

No Additional Laws are Necessary

The manufacturers of friction products represented on the BMC are committed to compliance and development of the next generation of brake products. These businesses annually invest significant portions of their corporate budgets in research and development of products that are safe and protect the environment.

It is unfathomable that a manufacturer in any industry sector would produce high volume products differently from one state to the next. This is certainly true of the brake friction industry.

Brake manufacturers are already investing in research and development to produce materials compliant to California and Washington laws. These products will be rolled out nationwide, not just in the states required.  Additional state laws requiring compliance aren’t necessary. Why waste valuable legislative time and taxpayers’ dollars on issues that are already being resolved? 

Yet individual state legislatures are considering action. This could lead to different brake criteria by state, forcing manufacturers to make or package products individually per state. The economic impact on business and jobs would be devastating.

Key Concerns

During its work on the new laws in California and Washington, the BMC identified several major concerns to ensure a smooth transition and consistency in legislation.  Below is a quick summary of some of these concerns.  Please click on BMC Friction Material Set of Principles here or in the menu above for a complete listing.

1. Effective Dates – California and Washington laws have provided a phase-out period. Both states have agreed to 2021 for brakes to contain no more than 5% copper.  It is important that there are consistent effective dates for all states.

2. Standardized Testing – Scientifically measuring trace amounts of copper and other materials are difficult at best. One standardized method of testing is imperative to ensure consistency among all states.

3. Product Marking – A single standard for product and/or package marking acceptable by all states is a must.  Any variance or requirement by a specific state would put undue burden on the supplier.  Plus, when a product is introduced into the supply chain it may cross several state lines before reaching the ultimate consumer.

4. Inventory Run-off – Effective legislation must have a provision to allow depletion of existing inventory in the distribution pipeline.  Inventory run-off recognizes the enormous supply chain network of parts distributors, retail stores and repair facilities that inventory parts.

5. Off-ramp Provision – Proposed legislation needs to allow a specified date for a review and possible extension of major deadlines based on scientific fact and safe vehicle operation of new formulations. An off-ramp provision allows a predesignated time to review progress in achieving an acceptable new formulation.

6. No fees or penalties - Due to the complexity of the supply chain and the number of touch points a single product makes throughout its life cycle, assigning fees or penalties are unrealistic and difficult to assign.  Additionally, they will ultimately get passed through to the consumer artificially inflating the replacement cost of brakes.

Legislators in California and Washington addressed these six concerns and incorporated them into their respective laws. Manufacturers are committed to compliance and additional state laws are not needed – but consideration of these key concerns is vital to ensure consistency throughout all states.

For more information on AASA, MEMA, BMC or Copper, please contact: 

Ann Wilson, Senior Vice President - MEMA, awilson@mema.org
AASA - info@aftermarketsuppliers.org