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E-Waste: Get that Lead Out of Here!

The RoHS Directive introduced and legislated by the European Union (EU) restricts heavy metals and other toxic substances in electronics and electrical equipment sold in Europe. It is effective 1 July 2006; however, companies are already being required to recover old products including collecting, dissembling, and disposing of various parts.

Electronics waste is the fastest growing component of the waste industry in Europe and most likely in the United States as well. Recycling is not common, and most electronics and electrical components end up in landfills. Heavy metals and toxics leach into landfills polluting the soil and contaminating ground and surface water-not a good thing for human health, safety, and welfare.

The banned substances include lead, mercury, chromium-6, cadmium, polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs), and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Lead-based solder, ubiquitous in the electronics industry, is used to attach microchips to printed circuit boards. Mercury is used in relays and cadmium is used for contacts, both common electrical components. PBBs and PBDEs are flame-retardants used in cables and plastics.

Japan has been getting the lead out since 1998 and even China is getting in on the act, enacting their own legislation directed primarily at computers and cell phones. Here in the United States, California has recently passed legislation similar to that of the EU. Massachusetts has banned lead and recycling is mandatory. As for the United States as a whole, don't hold your breath. Companies are not inclined to voluntarily apply similar standards unless mandated by federal law-and who knows when that will happen.

Hooray for the European Union for taking the lead on this important issue!

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