A recent environmental impact study revealed that the majority of pollutants found near U.S. roadways did not come from tailpipes, but instead from brake pads and tires. Water and air samples were collected by scientists in the study and they found bits of the brake pads which contained mercury, lead and cadmium. These heavy metals can cause cancer and birth defects.
In 2010, The Better Brake Law was passed in the U.S. which restricted the use of several heavy metals and asbestos, as well as a plan to phase out copper. Vehicle brake pads manufactured after 2021 must contain less than 5 percent copper by weight. By 2025, brake pads must contain less than 0.5 percent copper. What the law doesn’t take into account is the paint used on brake pads for cosmetic reasons and corrosion resistance. Toxic paint particles containing lead, cadmium and chromium can flake off from natural wear and tear and find their way onto the road and into waterways.
When selecting brake pads, a more environmentally friendly option would be a set with galvanized backing plates. These brake pads do not need paint because the galvanized coating prevents corrosion of the steel backing plate and is applied to the entire surface, including the area under the friction material. The coating is electro chemically applied to the backing plate and not painted on.