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RoHS, an EU directive to restrict hazardous substances

Restriction of hazardous substances directive for consumer devices.

The EU approved the Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS) for electrical appliances and electronics in February of 2003 and it went into effect on July 1, 2006.  A directive is not a law, although it obligates fulfillment by its member states.

RoHS restricts the use of six dangerous materials that are used in the production of various types of electrical and electronic equipment; it is closely tied to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE), that establishes objectives for the collection, recycling and recovery of electrical goods.  The objective of the EU is that both norms resolve the problem of toxic electronic waste (e-waste).

Despite being known at times as the “lead-free” directive, RoHS restricts the use of six substances: lead, mercury, cadmium, chromium VI, PBB and PBDE.  These last two are substances used in some plastics.

RoHS establishes maximum concentrations of heavy metals in every component of any electric or electronic product that is intended for sale in the EU (large and small household appliances, IT equipment, telecommunications equipment, consumer equipment, lighting equipment, electronic and electrical tools, toys and automatic dispensers):

  • 0,1% of the weight of the component for lead, mercury, chromium IV, PBB and PBDE. 

  • 0,01% in the case of the cadmium. 

The European directive allows some exceptions. A higher percentage of lead can be used in ceramic devices, some specific alloys and the glass used to manufacture cathode ray tubes (CRT), that are still used to make monitors and conventional television sets. Mercury can exceed the established quantity in certain types of lamps.

California has adopted legislation that uses the European RoHS as a model. It will go into effect in January of 2007.  With its adoption, the state’s current Republican government distances itself from fellow party members, reluctant to introduce any regulation that could cause higher prices for industry.

With this legislation, California is assured that the goods of its very important and very profitable high-tech industry can be marketed without problems in the EU.