Why RoHS and REACH
From a political standpoint, I see RoHS as a logical consequence of widespread environmental abuse by business. People have attempted direct legal remedies and found that process to be too slow, costly and ineffective. Go ask people living next to chemical plants in Louisiana. Legislation is also a slow process, but it has a broader reach and a more lasting effect than a lawsuit.
It is now obvious to many that simply producing a chemical will result in its dispersal throughout the environment. Even if most of the end products lock up a particular chemical and will not release it under normal use, the result is still broad dispersal. People have a tendency to misuse and abuse products. Accidents occur in handling and manufacture. Most of the processes used for production, packaging and transport are lossy. Material escapes through cracks, diffusion, cleaning and myriad other ways.
The consequence of all this material dispersal has been a global change in our biochemical environment. A further consequence has been a surge in cancer rates, obesity, reproductive disorders and other unexplained medical conditions. All organisms have been affected, including humans. It is this wholesale impact upon life on earth that is driving legislation like RoHS and REACH. People are tired of having their health damaged, and their children's lives diminished through environmental abuse.
Simple logic of coincidence draws the conclusion that our pollution is likely responsible for our new ills. Proof is served up by numerous scientific studies. The failure of industry to reverse the trend drives a political solution. Thus, we get new regulations.
The documentation of the hazards we have released is voluminous. Below are just a few links to studies and articles. If you take the time to look, you can find dozens of scientific papers on the environmental impacts of all 6 RoHS substances and hundreds of other chemicals introduced since the 50s. My favorite source for this material is still Science News.
I think it is long past time to hold all industries responsible for the environmental consequences of their actions. Legislation like RoHS, REACH and others will gradually force a replacement of old, dirty processes with new, greener ones. Businesses that embrace the change will benefit as much as the environment will.
PBDEs are endocrine disruptors. They have been linked to the epidemic of obesity in the US. Our tissues contain the highest levels of PBDEs on the planet. Study of contributors to increases in obesity, University of Alabama.
Science News, 25 October 2003, "New PCBs?" - viewable by all, describes the uses, benefits and harm caused by penta- and octa-PBDEs.
Science News, 24 June 2006, "Toxic Leftovers" - this is the newest research article covering the work of Lisa Alvarez-Cohen. Full article available to subscribers only. Here's an abstract of the original paper: Microbial reductive debromination of polybrominated diphenyl ethers