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What Is RoHS?

RoHS stands for Restriction of use of Hazardous Substances (ref. 1). The acronym is pronounced Rose, Roz, Ross, or is spelled out, depending on the speaker's preference. RoHS is a directive issued January 27, 2003 by the European Commission (EC). It directs European Union (EU) member nations to enact local legislation by August 13, 2004, which will implement the RoHS directive as regulatory requirements before the activation date of July 1, 2006. And that means what?

The directive is a legally binding document, for the EU member nations. It establishes regulations at the EU level, which flow to each member nation. Each government must pass its own laws, patterned after the RoHS directive, and do so by a deadline.

RoHS is part of a growing wave of environmental regulations or green initiatives. In addition to RoHS for Europe, there are similar regulations being written in China and other Asian nations. Japanese companies have created a non-governmental group to standardize green procurement requirements. In the US, individual states are passing laws restricting some substances and requiring recycling of certain classes of products. A common theme is the so-called "take-back" feature that requires manufacturers to accept old products from consumers and reuse or recycle the items.

The RoHS directive requires that six hazardous substances be removed from all electrical and electronic equipment. The substances may be present incidentally at certain levels as long as they are declared. The six substances are Cadmium (Cd), hexavalent Chromium (CR VI), Lead (Pb), Mercury (Hg), polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE). The maximum concentration of Cd is 0.01% by weight of homogeneous material, and 0.1% by weight for the other five substances. "Homogeneous material" means a material that cannot be mechanically disjointed into different materials (ref. 2). A substance is "present incidentally" if it was not intentionally added.

Some exemptions are declared in the RoHS annex, such as Hg in fluorescent lamps, Pb in certain alloys, and Pb in solder for servers (until 2010). All the details are in the RoHS directive text, with discussion and explanation in the dti RoHS guidance notes.

It all sounds pretty straightforward. There are, however, some kinks. For one, the EU member nations have not followed through and produced legislation. The August 13 deadline is long past and only a few countries have passed legislation (ref 3). This delay is creating uncertainty among corporations striving for compliance. Compounding the confusion, local legislation could tighten restrictions and possibly remove exemptions. Any company counting on a particular exemption could run into trouble in countries that nullified the exemption. Furthermore, the EC failed to meet its own October 2004 deadline of finalizing the directive.

Though the regulatory climate is still unsettled, a few certainties have popped up. Compliance is not optional. If you don't face regulation directly, your customers probably will, and they will push the requirements down to you. The safest strategy is to comply with the most stringent requirements - aim for RoHS with no exemptions. You are not alone. Every other business is in the same boat, and industry groups are working hard to formulate standards for compliance. Use the links on the RoHSwell home page to research RoHS in greater depth. Form your own plan, and get compliant.

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References
1. From directive 2002/95/EC, of the European Parliament.
2. From dti RoHS Regulations, Government Guidance Notes, Consultation Draft, July 2004.
3. The Perchards Report, summary of the transposition of the WEEE and RoHS directives into law by EU member states, January 2005.

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