Different River

”You can never step in the same river twice.” –Heraclitus

November 27, 2005

EU Bans Safe Electronics

Filed under: — Different River @ 9:02 pm

OK, the title is a slight exaggeration. But only slight. The EU is going to ban lead solder in electronic devices, but the only available substitute can cause short-circuits, leading in the best case to device failure and in the worst case to fire. So why ban solder? To appease the environmentalists.

Environmental groups around the world have been campaigning for years to replace lead-containing solders and protective layers on electronic components with non-hazardous metals and alloys. In response, the European Union (EU) will ban the use of lead (and five other hazardous substances) in all electrical and electronic equipment sold in EU nations starting in July 2006.

However, pure electroplated tin and lead-free tin alloys tend to spontaneously grow metallic whiskers (thin filament-like structures often several millimeters long) during service. These defects can lead to electrical shorts and failures across component leads and connectors.

Aside from placating environmentalists, there is an alternative explanation for the ban on solder. It might be a form of trade protectionism:

U.S. manufacturers must comply with this requirement in order to market their products overseas.

Which may (or may not) be the reason the (U.S.) National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) is looking into solving the problems with non-lead solders.

Meanwhile, the rest of us have a good reason to avoid buying electronic products sold in EU countries — or if we must use them, at least keep our fire insurance up to date.

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