In this article we show that brake wear from road traffic vehicles is an important source of atmospheric (participate) copper concentrations in Europe. Consequently, brake wear also contributes significantly to deposition fluxes of copper to surface waters. We estimated the copper emission due to brake wear to be 2.4 kiloton per year. For comparison, the official database for Europe (without brake wear) totals 2.6 kiloton per year. In Western Europe the brake wear emissions dominate the total emission of copper. Using the spatially resolved emission data, copper distributions over Europe were calculated with the LOTOS-EUROS model. Without brake wear the model underestimates observed copper concentrations by a factor of 3, which is in accordance with other studies. Including the brake wear emissions largely removes the bias. We find that 75% of the atmospheric copper input in the North Sea may be due to brake wear. We estimate that about 25% of the total copper input in the Dutch part of the North Sea stems from brake wear. Although the estimated brake wear copper emission is associated with a large uncertainty, it significantly improves our understanding of the copper cycle in the environment. © IWA Publishing 2007.