PenniesWashington is now the first US state to restrict the amount of copper in brake pads used in cars and trucks. On Monday the state Senate approved the final version of the legislation (SB 6557, with analysis here), which now goes to Gov. Chris Gregoire who is expected to sign it.

Copper is a problem because it flakes off brakes and winds up on roadways, where stormwater runoff washes it into streams and rivers. Salmon and other aquatic life are harmed by even very low concentrations of copper—and the state estimates that between 70,000 and 320,000 pounds of copper are being washed into Puget Sound each year. On the high end, that’s the equivalent weight of 57.6 million pennies.

(For lots more detail on the problems and sources of copper in stormwater check out these earlier blog posts: Tapping the Brakes on Copper Brake Pads, and Smart, Cheap Stormwater Fixes.)

The new rules will:

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    • Ban beginning in 2014 the sale of brake pads containing more than trace amounts of lead, mercury, asbestos, cadmium, and chromium.
    • Ban beginning in 2021 the sale of brake pads containing more than 5 percent copper.
    • Ban beginning in 2025 the sale of brake pads containing more than 0.5 percent copper, provided a safe,  acceptable substitute is found.

    California initially was the leader in work to get copper out of brake pads, but efforts there stalled last year and don’t appear to have resumed.

    Penny photo courtesy of Flickr user Great Beyond under a Creative Commons license.