What a wild ride it has been. The Öko-Institut, tasked by the EU for recommending changes to the existing RoHS, initially recommended adding 46 new substances (add link to March-April newsletter). Through a mysterious process, these 46 have been reduced and modified to 9 (see table below). But, this still might change as the final, final report is not expected to be released until late June 2008 (no word yet).
Öko may have been listening to the original criticism, because it decided to drop the sillier suggestions (nickel? Gallium arsenide?) and focus on chemicals with long, funnysounding names. The report’s primary focus seems to be on Phthalates (3 types), Paraffins (2 types), and halogenated organic compounds (there is actually some debate whether an entire class of chemicals can be banned under the existing RoHS legislation). One particular compound of concern to the electronics industry is the inclusion of Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA), which was not on the original list of proposed 44 substances.
The listing of TBBPA, both additive and reactive, is surprising for several reasons. The first is that the European Union and European Commission have completed three major assessments of this chemical. The outcome of all three investigations was that TBBPA carried no health or environmental risks (except for TBBPA added to ABS)
What is even more surprising, or amusing, is these results agree with another risk assessment of TBBPA that was carried out in 20001 by….hold your hat……the Oko Institut!
It is believed that one of the reasons for this change in outlook is the realization that Europe’s grand plan for recycling is not so grand after all. Waste in electrical and electronics equipment (WEEE) is not being recycled in Europe (surprise, surprise). Instead, the ‘recyclable’ material is shipped to Africa and Asia where cheap labor does not recycle as much as hunt through piles of waste to find something of value. And within this less than idyllic world, the easiest way to get to the most valuable materials (gold, silver, copper) is to burn the plastics (include PCB) around it. And thus, Europe’s new concern with uncontrolled burning of flame retardant plastics2.
All this angst and hair-pulling may end up being irrelevant as there is general agreement that RoHS is slowly becoming obsolete due to the increasing importance of REACH. The two pieces of legislation need to be in sync, through either informal channels or by eventually folding RoHS into the REACH process and requirements.
There are several advantages to moving to the REACH umbrella. It is by far more comprehensive, as it covers all markets, not just electronics. In addition, while REACH has portrayed as a legislative monster, because grandfathering is no longer allowed and lots of tracking and labeling will be required, it is also more balanced than RoHS because REACH is tasked to consider and evaluate the risks and benefits of any environmental regulation.
The process of consideration and evaluation is driven by the criteria for selection of high priority substances (I), substances of very high concern (SVHC)
This means, unfortunately, unless the industry or EU figures out a way of preventing the burning of plastics in some far away country, the banning of halogenated organic compounds is a real possibility.
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