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Base Metal : Lead supply and demand

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The Sunday Telegraph today draws our attention to an EU directive that could impact far and wide.


In an article entitled "Is this the craziest EU law of all", the writer describes how, on the basis of flawed research, the EU will, from July 1st 2006 (ie almost NOW) be :


"banning any use of lead and five other metals in electronic products."


It explains the implications :


"This means that all electronics firms in the EU, and enyone wishing to export into the EU, have had to find lead-free substitues, not least for the mass of solder in every computer circuit board."


The EU Directive & RoHS



General Thrust.


The change in the law governing use of lead is to be found in the DIRECTIVE 2002/95/EC OF THE EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT AND OF THE COUNCIL, of 27 January 2003, on the restriction of the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.


The relevant text is:


(5) ....

collection, treatment, recycling and disposal of waste

electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) ... are necessary to

reduce the waste management problems linked to the

heavy metals concerned and the flame retardants

concerned. In spite of those measures, however, significant

parts of WEEE will continue to be found in the

current disposal routes. Even if WEEE were collected

separately and submitted to recycling processes, its

content of mercury, cadmium, lead, chromium VI, PBB

and PBDE would be likely to pose risks to health or the


(6) Taking into account technical and economic feasibility,

the most effective way of ensuring the significant reduction

of risks to health and the environment ... is the substitution of those

substances in electrical and electronic equipment by safe

or safer materials.


It is made clear that this law countermands any national or regional laws relating to such substances.



Exemptions & Caveats


From the Directive:


(11) Exemptions from the substitution requirement should be

permitted if substitution is not possible from the scientific

and technical point of view or if the negative environmental

or health impacts caused by substitution are

likely to outweigh the human and environmental benefits

of the substitution. Substitution of the hazardous

substances in electrical and electronic equipment should

also be carried out in a way so as to be compatible with

the health and safety of users of electrical and electronic

equipment (EEE).


Technically, unresolved problems exist with respect to all-tin solder alternatives. In particular, the phenomenon of "Tin Whiskers" can seriously compromise electronic equipment. This have been documented by NASA, who, after losing billions due to this phenomenon, have produced a webpage with lots of pictures. Here is just one example of an intergrated circuit displaying this problem:




These photos are accompanied by an anecdotal concerning circuit failure:


"Failure occurred circa 2002 (> 20 YEARS after system was first assembled) due to a permanent "low current" short caused by a tin whisker that bridged two adjacent pins on the IC.

Estimated shorting distance between pins is 30 - 40 mils (0.75 - 1.0 mm). "



It is interesting to note that the Sunday Telegraph article maintains that military application EEE is exempt from the directive (although the directive makes no reference to this - see * below for RoHS view), which gives weight to the notion that lead alternatives are technically suspect and thus unreliable.



Environmentally, again the Sunday Telegraph claims that the original research into the environmental impact was faulted and has since been discreditted by various parties including the author of th eoriginal, faulted report.


Taken together, technical and environmental considerations seem to suggest the Directive will have little impact and can be read more as a wish list for th efuture (when problems have been overcome).


This however is not the impression given by the Telegraph which describes the billions of $ that will be wasted complying. One must however remeber that the Telegraph group of papers are extremely Euro-sceptic and might be using the issue to, once more, brand the EU as a barmy idea.



Assessment of Impact








* My doubts about this per se military exemption are reinforced by the RoHS ( Restriction of the use of Certain Hazardous Substances ) website states in its FAQs:


Military, national security and fixed installations

These are not specifically mentioned in the draft regulations nor the directive. The DTI ‘s view is that 2.1 and 2.3 of the WEEE directive apply to RoHS. The Commission FAQ makes a statement along similar lines but only as a footnote not within the main body table of their FAQ making us question its status. We have requested clear policy on this from the DTI. As the designated enforcement body we would not offer an opinion on products in these areas until we have this clear policy.



So maybe there is just a bit too much anti-European sentiment in the famously anti=European Telegraph...






[work in progress, would prefer it if you held comments back 'til I finish. Cheers]

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  • 3 weeks later...

i've posted htis link on another thread; it might be useful in your deliberations sledgehead



"So it is that the Directive bans the substances listed from use in a wide range of electrical and electronic equipment and while there may – and I stress may – be some justification in controlling the use of some of them, there is no good evidence that the use of lead-based solder in electronic equipment is posing any threat whatsoever to the environment or the health of workers, either during manufacture or recycling, or when disposed of in landfill.


What is surprising however – although it should not be – is that, despite the claims of health and environmental threats, the latter based on the risk of lead-contaminated leachate from landfill sites, at the time the directive was being discussed, that data were largely theoretical, based largely on US studies. It was only when a number of field studies were subsequently carried out – such as this one here - examining the actual amount of lead leaching from landfill sites, that is was realised that there was no problem at all.


Especially significant was a year-long study by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation. Released in March 2004, this concluded that heavy toxic metals, including lead, did not pose an existing or future health threat in municipal solid waste landfills.


The foundation reviewed existing research and concluded that the natural conditioins in landfill sites, such as precipitation and absorption, provide chemical reactions and interactions that prevent heavy metals from dissolving into the soil. They concluded that out of 130,200 tons of heavy metals placed in municipal landfill in 2000 from electronics, batteries, thermometers, and pigments, almost all - 98 percent - was lead. Cadmium and mercury made up the remaining amount.


According to the authors, "The study presents extensive data that show that heavy metal concentrations in leachate and landfill gas are generally far below the limits that have been established to protect human health and the environment."


By then, it was too late – the "train had left the station" and the momentum for new legislation was too great. But, by 2005, the US Environmental Protection Agency had got its act together and produced a 472-page report, assessing the full, life-cycle environmental impact of banning lead solder.


From this work, it emerged that when the impact of mining and refining substitutes was taken in to account, the higher energy consumption in using the lead-free solders, which require higher temperatures, and all the other issues were factored in, the banning of lead – far from having a positive impact on the environment (and worker health) – actually had a significant negative impact. Amazingly, though, this work had never been done by the EU and the legislation was, by then, already in place.


It was then left to member states to justify the ban, which the UK attempted to do in a series of "regulatory impact assessments", which can only be described as a parody of the genre."



conludes with...............

"For the rest of us, though, courtesy of this utterly mad EU legislation, we are to pay more for less reliable equipment, with an overall greater harmful impact on the environment. There are no words sufficient to describe the utter, complete, total fatuity of a system that can allow this to happen."


any views? the artickle is pretty damning of the eu and thje directive

could this directive have been avoided in the uk? the article seems to suggest theat if our legislators wer any good then it could have been thrown out

presumably there must be 2 sorts of computers etc being made - those for the row and those for the eu

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