• 'Give Salmon a Brake' campaign to promote copper-free brakes

    By: Deborah Horne

    Updated:

    TACOMA, Wash. - Frank Voegele, a longtime certified brake mechanic at T & T Tire Factory in Tacoma, held in his hands the brake pads that are still in most vehicles on the road.

    "You can see the speckles," said Voegele. "That's probably the copper you're talking about. See the coppery colors. These are actually in pretty good shape."

    But each time a driver comes to a stop, the brake pads leave behind a bit of copper dust.

    In 2011, that amounted to some 125 tons of copper dust that ended up in Puget Sound, the habitat of the iconic Pacific salmon.

    "It's highly toxic to fish, so even very low amounts of copper will cause salmon to be unable to smell," said Ian Wesley of the state Department of Ecology.  "It degrades their ability to avoid predators."

    Wesley is running the state's new "Give Salmon a Brake" campaign. It is designed to get drivers to ask for low-copper or copper-free brakes.

    "The first requirements are going to go into effect," said Wesley, "where it's phasing them out to less than 5 percent copper.  And then we're working to phase out all copper."

    The new brake pads are already showing up at places like T & T Tire Factory, as indicated by the three-leaf clover on the box.

    But Voegele says it won't change his work life too much.

    "No," he said.  "As long as they don't make noise and people don't come back complaining, I'm happy."

    And one thing customers likely won't complain about is the price.

    The new brake pads cost about the same as the old ones.

    All new brakes are to be copper-free by 2025.

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