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New exemptions from the RoHS directive suggested

Publish date: October 18, 2005

Written by: Gunnar Grini

The European Commission (EC) has submitted a new stakeholder consultation suggesting several exemptions from the Directive on the Restriction of the use of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment (RoHS).

In its answer to the consultation, the Bellona Foundation rejects the EC’s proposal for additional exemptions.

The RoHS directive was signed by the European Parliament and the EC on February 13th 2003, and stipulates restrictions on the use of certain hazardous substances in electrical and electronic equipment.

According to the Directive, Member States must ensure that, from July 1st 2006, new electrical and electronic equipment put on the market does not contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) or polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE).

However, article 4 (1) of the Directive provides that materials and components can be exempted from the substance restrictions if their elimination or substitution is technically or scientifically impracticable, or where the negative environmental, health or consumer safety impacts caused by substitution outweigh the benefits.
The EC has received additional requests from industry for applications to be exempted from the RoHS Directive’s requirements.

Bellona rejects any attempt to weaken the directive
The Bellona Foundation is concerned that the RoHS Directive will be weakened by too many exemptions from its requirements. Strong demands for restrictions on the use of substances with harmful effects to human health and to the environment provide impetus to industry to provide alternative substances with less harmful effects. In addition, restrictions will make the alternatives more economically competitive. In the long term, restrictions on substances with documented harmful health and environmental effects will make the European industry more innovative and competitive.

In its response to the EC consultation on the RoHS Directive, Bellona argues that there is no reason why the substances or sectors suggested in the consultation should be exempted from the Directive. The applications for exemption prepared by industry claim that several categories of components and equipment for goods must be exempted from the Directive because these hazardous components are the only components that can withstand demanding environmental conditions in the products they are used in. However, industry does not provide any proof that environmentally sound substitutes are not available or that they fail to perform under demanding circumstances.Furthermore, Bellona believes that before hazardous substances can be exempted from the restrictions in the RoHS Directive and placed in its annex, a plan must be devised to govern how those substances can be phased out.

This plan should also include information regarding efforts to find competitive alternatives and when such alternatives might be able to replace hazardous substances. The responsibility for working out such a plan should lie with industry.

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