EU ban on toxic electrics kicks in

A European directive banning a range of poisonous metals and chemicals from use in electrical and electronic devices came into effect at the beginning of July, promising to deliver a slightly healthier environment and population.

Under the Restrictions on Hazardous Subjects (RoHS) Directive lead, cadmium, mercury and hexavalent chromium and two groups of brominated flame retardants – polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) – can no longer be used in devices produced in or imported by EU states.

China, a major producer of consumer electronics and electrical goods, is watching closely and considering introducing a similar ban next year.

Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said: “This ban has a double benefit for human health and the environment,” said Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas.

“Ending the use of these hazardous substances in many e-products not only removes the intrinsic hazard they pose but will also enable us to considerably increase the amount of waste equipment that is recycled by making this activity safer and also less costly.

“I welcome China’s plans to follow Europe’s example and would encourage other countries to do likewise.”

E-waste is the fastest growing waste stream in Europe, as increased affluence and ever-cheaper products lead to more hi-tech households (see related story).

Producers have had over three years to prepare for the ban’s entry into force since it was decided in January 2003.

All the banned substances have severe adverse effects on human health and the environment.

Lead and mercury, for example, can affect the brain and nervous system and are particularly dangerous for pregnant women and young children. They also accumulate in living organisms and the environment.

Brominated flame retardants can harm the human reproductive system, may be transformed into highly toxic compounds in the body and may cause tumours.

They are also toxic in aquatic environments, where they accumulate and persist rather than breaking down into harmless compounds.

The RoHS Directive goes hand-in-hand with the Waste from Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive, which sets targets for the recycling of E-waste.

By removing some of the most toxic substances from this waste stream, it makes recycling simpler and less expensive.

Sam Bond

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