Lead Free Redux? Report from Brussels on Halogen Free

OEMs Encourage European Union to Ban Halogens Under RoHS

Last month, the recast of the European Union (EU) Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) took an unpleasant, although expected, turn. In November, I traveled to Brussels to attend a conference in the European Parliament on “Greening consumer electronics — from hazardous materials to sustainable solutions.” The event was hosted by RoHS Rapporteur (discussion leader) Jill Evans and organized with the environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) Chemsec.

What was unexpected was the support of key industry leaders for the regulatory restriction of additional substances under RoHS. Consumer electronics companies Apple and Sony Ericsson have publicly backed calls by NGOs and the European Parliament’s Environment Committee for a ban on all halogenated substances to be included in the recast of the RoHS Directive in electrical and electronic equipment. Grace O’Malley, European operations manager for the International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative (iNEMI), stated industry’s support for the expansion of RoHS, stating that RoHS was “helpful in focusing industry in this area.” Although other OEMs including Dell, Intel, Philips, Acer, HP and LG Electronics have not come out in support of the changes to RoHS, their public commitments to remove brominated flame retardants (BFRs) and polyvinyl chloride (PVC) from their products are being construed as support of the proposal to ban halogens in electronics.

Although a few speakers, including myself, raised the issue of needing to make decisions based on sound science, along with the need to avoid undermining REACH by taking a position that puts RoHS in conflict with REACH, it was mostly a one-sided event.

Following the conference, I met with several Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) who are leading the RoHS debate. I pointed out that substances should be assessed individually rather than by generic bans and that many of the substances being discussed had passed EU risk assessments. I also said that concerns regarding the disposal of electronics containing halogens had a broad number of environmental concerns that would not be addressed by removing halogens and that the EU should instead work to prevent improper incineration of electronics in developing countries. Most of the MEPs I met with appeared to have already decided to support the ban of halogens.

Proposals for recasting the Directive have recently been published by the Parliament’s rapporteur, Jill Evans, in the form of an Environment Committee draft report. The draft report says the list of prohibited substances should be increased to cover all brominated and chlorinated flame retardants, PVC, chlorinated plasticisers and three phthalates. A second group of substances — arsenic compounds, beryllium and its compounds, antimony trioxide, dinickel trioxide, bisphenol A, and organochlorines and organobromines other than flame retardants or plasticisers — should be assessed in the next recast of the Directive as candidates for prohibition. The European Parliament’s Environment Committee is expected to begin discussion in January with a plenary vote in the Parliament planned for April.

Report submitted by Fern Abrams, IPC Director of Government Relations and Environmental Policy

For more information: Jill Evans proposal for RoHS reform (.pdf)

IPC position paper: http://www.ipc.org/rohs-position(.pdf)

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