Brake pads have to withstand huge amounts of extreme heat caused by the friction of braking, and asbestos helps the pads resist damage. Unfortunately, as the brakes degrade they can release potentially deadly asbestos fibers into the air.
The two primary offenders of asbestos containing brakes are Raymark Corporation and Bendix. Raymark was named by the U.S. Department of Justice as the subject of a $20 million lawsuit in 1997 that claimed they polluted the environment with asbestos for 70 years as they manufactured their asbestos containing brakes. Bendix used asbestos in brake pads up until 2002, until they were successfully sued for $53 million due to the death of a New York man. These companies were named in other successful legal actions by victims of asbestos containing brakes, and currently there are 47,000 pending lawsuits against Bendix alone.