When Dale Smith pulls the wheel off a car for each brake job he performs, he knows he risks being exposed to some nasty dust.
The brake dust may contain asbestos, it definitely contains copper and other heavy metals.
But Washington State has begun enforcing a new law that phases out those toxins from brakes sold in this state. Auto shops like Bryan's Automotive in Olympia, where Smith works, will be required to purchase only approved brake pads from manufacturers that are already voluntarily producing environmentally friendlier brakes.
The state estimates the new law will eliminate 80,000 pounds of copper that collects on roadways each year.
Biologists say copper is a salmon killer. When dust containing copper particles sprinkles onto the road each time someone applies the brakes, it accumulates until rain washes it into the nearest water body. Scientists say it confuses fish and disrupts their natural navigation abilities. That makes it easier for predators to pick it off or interrupts a salmon migration.
Mechanics say the new copper-free brakes work as well as the old ones. They say they may be a little noisier, producing more squeaks, and they cost more. B
ryan Fijolek who owns Bryan's Automotive, said the new brakes are about 10 percent more expensive but he feels better about installing products that cause less harm to the environment and his employees like Dale Smith.