European parliament and the council passed a directive 2002/95/EC, which bans the use of hazardous materials in European market. By implementing this ban European union conveyed a clear message "React before you get killed". The ban is a step towards eliminating potential hazardous toxic substance like lead, mercury, chromium, and cadmium, polybromated biphenyl (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) from their products. The basic aim behind the ban is to reduce harmful substances that leaches into the ground from electronic waste disposed in landfill sites.
This restriction presents the challenge of a complete change in the global manufacturing scenario. In fact, the scientific worth of the directive has also been called into question as many scientists and engineers in the industry say there is no real evidence to prove leaching occurs. Above all, out of all the restricted materials, lead and chromium, in particular, will be the most difficult to substitute. This is because lead is the core component of the solder used in the manufacturing of printed circuits boards (PCBs) and chromium (Cr) is highly lustrous metal, which is widely used for decorative plating on metals and protecting hardware.
Health hazards caused by restricted elements
Lead (Pb): Element like lead can have an adverse effect on the body. The lead-containing water, when consumed, can effect almost every organ and system of the human body. Lead damages kidneys and the reproductive system. The effects are the same when it is breathed or swallowed. Lead may also lead to anemia- a disorder of blood.
Chromium (Cr): Element like chromium is also equally destructive. Hexavalent chromium is a carcinogen that that causes cancer. Chromium may cause irritation in the nose, throat and lungs. Repeated and prolonged exposure can even damage the mucous membrane of nasal passage and result in ulcers.
Mercury (Hg): Although use of mercury is limited to a very small quantity in lighting and dental filling applications, It has a very bad effect on our nervous system. The nervous system problems arising out use of mercury includes repetitive headache, tremors (in hands, feet, eyelids, and tongue), muscular weakness, diffuse myalgia (muscular rheumatism), tinnitus (ringing in the ears), chest pain and many more.
Cadmium (Cd): Cadmium is one more ready to destroy element commonly found in industrial workplaces, particularly in the place where any ore is being processed or smelted. It causes problem such as kidney damage, pulmonary emphysema and bone disease. Cadmium is also responsible for disease such as anemia, teeth discoloration and loss of smell.
Now, the challenging question that stands in front of manufacturing companies is how to eliminate or reduce use of these elements. In order to eliminate lead from the solder alloy, one has to use elements like silver, copper and bismuth to form an alloy with tin but that again is not feasible. This is because this kind of production requires higher processing temperatures, higher melting temperature of around 20 to 40 degrees and proper selection of components in compliance with RoHS.
So, one thing is for sure that the ban has put electronic manufactures in a difficult situation. On the other hand, if this is viewed from a different angle, the ban could be a blessing in disguise. This is because that ban could create a challenging atmosphere among manufactures producing the electrical and electronic equipment competing in the European market.
In this regard, electronics industry should not look at this ban as a threat, but take it as a challenge and eliminate all the hazardous substance to create a healthy environment.