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Environment and Planning
Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Washington State Says 'Give Salmon A Break' With Copper-Free Brakes

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Washington State Department of Ecology
This photo shows a brake pad made with copper and one that's mostly copper-free. You can make out the specks of copper in the left pad. The state of Washington is phasing-out copper pads to protect salmon.

It has taken five years, but low-copper and copper-free brakes are now available in Washington. That’s because of a 2010 law designed to phase out the use of copper and other toxics in brake pads.

Ian Wesley, the Better Brakes coordinator at the Washington State Department of Ecology, said each time you use your brakes, a bit of material gets deposited on the roadway.

“From there it gets washed into streams and rivers where it’s harmful of salmon,” he said. “Even very trace levels of copper negatively impact salmons’ ability to smell.”

Wesley said copper-free brakes are just as reliable and should cost about the same. He urged car owners to ask for them.

“You can identify them by a three leaf logo -- and all of the three leaves will be filled in and that’s how you’ll identify the copper-free ones,” he explained.

Wesley said do it for the salmon.

“Yeah, give salmon a break. That’s what we’re asking people to do,” he said with a laugh.