Enthusiasts in California and in Washington should act fast if they want to put a new Chevrolet Camaro SS or ZL1 in their garage. Both models are now illegal in those states due to the percentage of copper in their brake pads.
California's Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) stepped up its efforts to regulate brake pads in 2010, when then-governor Arnold Schwarzenegger signed a bill called the California Motor Vehicle Brake Friction Material Law. It prohibits carmakers and suppliers from selling brake pads "containing more than trace amounts of copper, certain heavy metals, and asbestos." Pads containing heavy metals and asbestos were banned in 2014, and a ban on brake pads containing more than 5% copper will come into effect in January 2021.
Lawmakers explained copper is toxic to many aquatic organisms. While trout don't snack on high-performance brake pads, the dust generated while braking (the same stuff you often have to clean off of your wheels) sometimes finds its way into rivers and contaminates the water, which in turn harms the animals living in it.
Only the high-power SS and ZL1 variants of the Camaro are affected by the ban; the other versions remain available in California and in Washington. And, while dealers legally need to stop taking orders, the cars they still have in their inventory are fair game. Both models remain available elsewhere across America.
Looking ahead, Chevrolet plans to reintroduce the SS and the ZL1 in the states that banned them for the 2022 model year. It will work with its suppliers to design high-performance brake pads that comply with the regulations.
"We will resume allowing customers in California and Washington state to order the Camaro SS, ZL1 and 1LE models in 2022 when we introduce a new brake system that is compliant with the copper requirements," company spokesperson Kevin Kelly said in a statement sent to enthusiast website GM Authority.
Brake pads aren't the only source of pollutants that cause harm to marine organisms. According to scientists, a chemical called 6PPD that's used in many tires and carried into rivers by the rain is responsible for killing coho salmons along the Pacific coast. In 2019, researchers measured microparticles and microplastics in stormwater from 12 small tributaries in the San Francisco area, and they noticed nearly half of them were black with a rubbery texture. "One potential source of these particles is vehicle tire wear," the study concluded.
Unlike environmentalists (and not surprisingly), major players in the tire industry stress that these particles present no significant risk to humans and the environment. Still, lawmakers are considering handing tire manufacturers stricter regulations.