European Agencies Ban Six Chemicals

In REACH and chemicals news, it was announced in Europe that six dangerous substances are to be phased out. This means that manufacturers who use these chemicals in their products — or have absorbed them somewhere in their supply chain — will have to:

a) know about those offending product ingredients, and

b) find replacement raw materials if the company is to conduct business in Europe legally.

The Commission decision follows the successful first phase of REACH’s registration and notification of chemicals. It’s all a part of REACH, Europe’s initiative to make the use of chemicals safer.

European Commission Vice President Antonio Tajani said, “Today’s decision is an example of the successful implementation of REACH and of how sustainability can be combined with competitiveness. It will encourage industry to develop alternatives and foster innovation.”

What it means is that six substances of very high concern — also known as SVHCs — have been moved from the candidate list to the authorization list, known as Annex XIV, under the EU’s REACH regulation. Annex XIV is like chemical-Alcatraz, substances there cannot be placed on the market or used unless they get a special clearance from the Agency and authorisation is granted for a specific use. All SVHC listings, selections and classifications are based on recommendations made by the European Chemicals Agency (ECHA).

The following six chemical substances of very high concern are the first entrants in the Annex XIV:

1. 5-ter-butyl-2,4,6-trinito-m-xylene (musk xylene)

2. 4,4′-diaminodiphenylmethane (MDA)

3. hexabromocyclododecane (HBCDD)

4. bis(2-ethylexyl) phthalate (DEHP)

5. benzyl butyl phthalate (BBP)

6. dibutyl phthalate (DBP)

If your company uses any of these substances – even in tiny quanitites – or if these substances appear magically in your product from a mysterious supply chain source – a timetable for substitution will have to be submitted. These six substances have been determined to be either carcinogenic, toxic for reproduction or persistent in the environment and to accumulate in living organisms, and will be banned within the next three to five years.

Environment Commissioner Janez Potonik said: “Chemicals are everywhere in the modern world and some of them can be very dangerous. Today’s decision is an important step towards better protecting our health and the environment.”

Additional substances will be added to Annex XIV in the future.

The Commission also says it will put forth a greater number of known substances of very high concern for inclusion in the candidate list. The Commission and the European Chemicals Agency say they are fully committed to achieve this goal, and are expecting the “active engagement of the Member States.”

SVHC background. As we’ve reported previously in this blog, the SVHC list is simply a list of Substances of Very High Concern. “Only the European community could come up with such a tactful term for ‘highly toxic stuff,'” as a recent article in Environmental Leader put it.

By 2012, over 165 substances are expected to be listed on the SVHC candidate list. The list includes substances which are:

* Carcinogenic, Mutagenic or toxic to Reproduction

* Persistent, Bioaccumulative and Toxic (PBT) or very Persistent and very Bioaccumulative (vPvB) (defined by REACH criteria), and/or

* Identified as causing probable serious effects to humans or the environment of an equivalent level of concern as those above, e.g. endocrine disrupters — for reference, in the US there are 134 suspected endocrine disruptors.

The latest SVHC candidate list is online here at the ECHA site, and if that site is down — as it often seems to be — go to the June 2010 SVHC candidate list hosted by Actio.

Fighting Back


IPC is taking aim at Greenpeace for its aggressive stance against electronics OEMs and their environmental stewardship. The trade group last night issued a statement asserting Greenpeace’s quarterly report card on electronics companies is based on “faulty science.” IPC further alleges the environmental organization penalizes companies that do not subscribe to its agenda.

Thank goodness and it’s about time.

I’ve criticized Greenpeace in the past for its foolhardy attempts to globally ban on anything with even minimal toxicity while conveniently overlooking the bigger picture: many of the potential replacement materials are unproven and product that doesn’t work ends up in landfills faster than you can say “Save the whales.” Don’t get me wrong: Greenpeace is a great organization, but it is out of its league here. While some groups, like ChemSec in Europe, are very well-informed about materials science and its tradeoffs, others like Greenpeace use questionable methodologies to further their agendas. That in itself is a problem, but even worse, all the blown smoke obscures — and perhaps even diminishes — the potential for real dialogue on how to solve the bigger problems.

Greenpeace’s methods are aimed at maximizing attention for itself and putting its targets on the defensive. OEMs, faced with a no-win proposition, tend to publicly bow in the face of pressure (although apparently not fast enough for Greenpeace). I’d rather they sit down and have extensive, publicized open meetings on what it means to be environmentally responsible.

‘Riddled’ With Mistakes

I haven’t the slightest idea why Gene Riddle didn’t properly dispose of thousands of gallons of hazardous waste from his long-defunct printed circuit board shop, but I wouldn’t want to be in his shoes today.

Riddle, who owned Riddle Inc. from 1972-1991, has been brought up on federal charges for failing to get permits for nearly 3,800 gallons of oxides, acids and other materials typical in PCB wet processing. After the plant closed, the waste materials allegedly were stored in a building that was falling apart. Worse, it was situated just a few hundred yards from a creek that was prone to flooding. The surging waters breached the building several times, leading the feds to slap Riddle with illegal discharge violations to boot.

It’s a cautionary tale not just for those who are in the PCB business, but those who are ever affiliated with it. Given the increasing number and depth of regulations that amplify the need to pay attention not just to what goes on under your roof but that of your suppliers’ as well, one wonders whether the dirty (and I mean dirty) little secret of how many emerging nations handle waste will come back to haunt the Western OEMs that so heavily depend on that part of the supply chain.

Kal Kawar Joins Blogging Team

I’d like to welcome our newest blogger, Kal Kawar of Actio.

A chemical regulations expert, Kal has a bachelor’s in chemical engineering and a master’s in industrial hygiene. His professional experience includes serving as staff industrial hygienist for IBM’s New York semiconductor manufacturing facility, and as industrial hygienist for IBM’s US headquarters. Now executive vice president of Actio, Kal taps more than 20 years’ worth of chemical engineering, industrial hygiene, and environmental engineering experience.  His far-reaching expertise with global regulatory challenges created by EPA, TSCA, REACH, RoHS, WEEE – and hundreds of others – aid in developing Actio software solutions for MSDS management, raw material disclosure compliance, and product stewardship in a supply chain.

Welcome, Kal!

At the Barrel of a Gun

Apple takes a fair amount of guff — and deservedly so, in my opinion — for looking the other way while its main suppliers take wild advantage of their workers.

But while Apple is the poster boy for the need to improve worker conditions, the heat for the gruesome and short lives of the Congolese encompasses a much wider cast.

As a new report by Global Witness makes clear, manufacturers are not doing nearly enough to combat the mass murder and exploitation taking place near the mines, from which the bulk of the world’s supply of such precious metals as coltan, cassiterite (tin ore) and wolframite are derived.

As our supply chains become more disjointed, this is exactly the type of shameful behavior that is too easily dismissed with the wave of a hand and the contrived notion that they can’t pull out of the Congo because will hurt the Congolese.

I am critical of Greenpeace because I think that its repeated public scoldings puts the attention and resources on red herring problems in which the “cure” is worse than the disease. I think this is a much bigger deal. Sub-Saharan Africa is the future of manufacturing — not tomorrow, not 10 years from now, but certainly down the road. It is home to more than one billion people, is in a more convenient time zone than is the Pacific Rim for OEM customers both in Europe and the Americas, and is the epitome of “low cost.”

The West must work to develop positive relationships with African nations now, lest China (which is aggressively courting the subcontinent) win over the nations which sometime in the future will be the region to which it outsources. And this starts with OEMs taking a hard line over insisting clear, unambiguous materials declarations — and hitting suppliers with harsh, and public, penalties for any failure to comply.

Many Congolese youth spend their days on their hands and knees, grubbing for cassiterite with their bare hands, in forced servitude to one of the local armies. The leaders of our industry shouldn’t need a gun to their heads to try to right such injustice.

Hunting Witches

In Europe, the fight against TBBPA continues, but at least this time IPC is on the right side of an environmental witch hunt.

The trade group yesterday issued perhaps its strongest statement yet on the matter, encouraging its members in Germany and Sweden to lobby their respective environmental agencies and government officials to keep Tetrabromobisphenol(a) legal.

In doing so, IPC broke with its recent history of abdicating difficult policy decisions. Faced with a proposed EU ban on lead and other primary elements, IPC took the position that it was a fait accompli, and chose not to rally its members to fight the proposed ban (now known as the RoHS Directive).

What’s interesting here is the similarities in the defense IPC is putting up. Then, IPC acknowledged the anti-lead crowd was using faulty science and that lead in electronics posed no risk to human health or the environment. Yesterday’s announcement, IPC wrote: “TBBPA is a popular flame retardant used in more than 80 percent of the world’s printed circuit boards (PCBs). A comprehensive EU Risk Assessment found TBBPA not harmful to the environment or to human health.”

It’s unclear to me why IPC decided to flip-flop on this one. But I’m glad it did.

Red Over Greenpeace

Another day, another whine from Greenpeace.

This time, the would-be environmental group complains that several large PC makers are “backtracking” on promises to eliminate certain chemicals from their computers.

In a press release issued today, Greenpeace cites Hewlett Packard, Dell and Lenovo – for “failing to improve their low scores.”

Dell and Lenovo are called out for delaying their migraton to non-PVC and BFR materials, while HP is cited for “[postponing] its 2007 commitment to phase out PVC and BFRs from its computer products from 2009 to 2011. [I]t is not even putting PVC and BFR-reduced products on the market.”

“Greenpeace takes voluntary commitments very seriously and holds companies accountable for their promises. There are no excuses for backtracking, and no reason for these companies not to have PCs free of PVC and BFRs now,” said Greenpeace International Toxics Campaigner Tom Dowdall in the statement.

Which is great, except it’s also wrong.

Keep in mind those scores are set and tabulated by Greenpeace. And note that those targets are constantly moving. Greenpeace exists only to wag its finger at large corporations. It needs enemies in order to survive, even if that means conjuring up ghosts and bogeymen.

Meanwhile, Greenpeace also ignores that the science does not yet support the elimination of BFRs, and in fact, may suggest otherwise. As Dr. Arlene Blum, executive director of the Green Science Policy Institute and a member of Chemists Without Borders noted in her blog in May, “it is difficult to make a causal connection between chemical exposure and health impacts.”

And it ignores that all the major PC vendors now have significant takeback programs in place, providing some level of protection against these chemicals entering the waste stream.

While it pats Apple on the back, claiming its new PC lines “virtually free of PVC and completely BFR-free,” Greenpeace misses that Apple is perhaps the worst of the bunch when it comes to auditing and ensuring its vendors — which include Foxconn — follow acceptable labor practices.

BFRs may be bad, but what’s the alternative? Remind me: Does fire cause pollution?

What a Waste

All sorts of nonsense is erupting in our industry’s corner of the environmental arena this past week. Let’s go to the tape:

  • On May 14, Rep. Michael Burgess (R-TX) introduced a bill that essentially codifies the EU RoHS Directive for the US as well. The bill proposes to prohibit the manufacture after July 1, 2010 of “electroindustry products” that contain lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium, PBBs, and PBDEs above the maximum concentration levels specified in the European Union’s RoHS Directive.
  • Today, the Electronics TakeBack Coalition issued a statement opposing a toxic e-waste bill scheduled to be introduced in the House later this week. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Gene Green (D-TX) (how’s that for irony?), Rep. Mary Bono-Mack (R-CA) and Rep. Mike Thompson (D-CA), permits e-waste exports under a loophole under which any type of entity can export toxic e-waste to developing nations for reuse and refurbishment, the Coalition asserts.

    “By passing a law that only appears to restrict exports to developing countries without actually doing so, the bill would undermine those recycling companies which are in fact managing their e-waste responsibly, and providing jobs here at home. This bill fails in serious and even critical ways.”

  • And in between, IPC issued a press release boasting how 22 of its 2700-odd members managed to trek to Washington in support of a permanent R&D tax credit, something that just about every technology company operating in the US already supports anyway — and many of which are priming the lobbying pump to ensure it goes through.

    So in summary, we have a Republican from Texas trying to overlay (absurd) European laws onto US manufacturers, an industry environmental advocacy group trying to shoot down new proposed environmental regs, and the major US PCB trade association completely in the dark about all of it.

    Not too good.

  • iSuppli ‘Green’ Survey Sheds No Light

    Don’t be fooled by iSuppli’s latest report saying that consumers are going green. The data actually say the opposite.

    The research firm issued a press release today stating more than half of US LCD-TV buyers say that environmental issues “influenced their decision when selecting a set to purchase.”

    A look at the rest of the picture tells a different story.

    According to the April survey, 27.5% of LCD-TV buyers “listed green factors as important influences” in their purchasing decisions. Another 23.1% responded that they looked for green features when buying an LCD-TV, but those features were not an important consideration [bolds mine] in the overall purchasing decision.

    From this, iSuppli somehow concludes that “more than half of US LCD-TV buyers are paying attention to environmental features, making ‘green’ a key selling point that needs to be highlighted wherever possible in branding and marketing efforts.”

    Here’s the rub: Fewer than 16% of respondents highlighted recyclability as a feature on their purchase.

    Say it with me: Electronics aren’t green. They require lots of mining and other nasty actions to produce, consume billions of tons of plastic, and hog energy. And if you can’t recycle it, it’s even less environmentally friendly.

    Not long ago, I spent 30 minutes or so standing in the electronics department of the Seabrook, NH, Wal-Mart, asking customers why they chose their TV. (I’d say I did this just for fun, but have you ever tried randomly starting a conversation at a Wal-Mart? It’s not easy.) The most common answers? Price and “it looked good.” Not one customer mentioned environmental reasons. Not one.

    Granted, there’s nothing scientific about my poll. And customers don’t shop at Wal-Mart because they like the pretty store décor.

    But consider this: What’s the simplest move a consumer can make to save energy? Change the light bulbs to compact fluorescents, right? Yet those bulbs are used in only 11% of the available sockets in the US today.

    Why? Maybe because the list price is several times higher than that of an incandescent.

    It all comes down to price.

    There’s a color for what iSuppli is pitching, but it’s not green. It’s brown.

    Just Say No, IBM!

    Over the years, OEM after OEM has fallen prey to Foxconn, lured by the temptation of higher margins by outsourcing product to the Taiwanese ODM. H-P, Motorola, Dell, Sony and Apple are among the many, many companies that outsource billions of dollars worth of product build each year.

    Sadly, IBM, one of the few remaining major holdouts, appears on the brink of ending its streak. Big Blue is set to announce a deal to to codevelop something called “environment-friendly” products.

    Pending release of financial terms, it’s unclear what IBM stands to gain from the program.

    IBM has ventured down the environmentally friendly path before. In 2007, it committed $1 billion to fund Project Big Green, an effort toward environment-friendly, energy-efficient products and services. This is its first known deal with Foxconn, however.

    It shouldn’t happen.

    As The Economist pointed out earlier this month, China’s reputation for workmanship remains a negative in consumers’ eyes. “The poor external reputation of China’s products hurts not only Chinese companies but also Western firms known to be selling Chinese-made goods.” Citing last year’s scandals over various Chinese-produced toys, the US and India have passed new laws governing imports from the World’s Workshop.

    And myriad stories have cited Foxconn’s dismal and imperialist working conditions.

    IBM is America’s crown jewel, the greatest electronics company the world has ever known. Getting in bed with scofflaws like Hon Hai cheapens its luster and diminishes its reputation. IBM should walk away.

    UPDATE: Whew! That wasn’t so bad. The Wall Street Journal is reporting Foxconn is licensing IBM’s GreenCert technology for estimating the amount of greenhouse gas emissions pumped from factories. It could have been much worse.