Cutting Through the Guesswork: RoHS Training and Testing

The RoHS Directive, which came into effect in July 2006, is designed to limit six dangerous chemicals -- lead, mercury, cadmium, polybrominated biphenyl flame retardants, hexavalent chromium, and polybrominated diphenyl ether flame retardants -- in consumer products. Products that are affected include electronic and electrical tools, automatic dispensers, light bulbs and lighting equipment, household appliances, consumer equipment, telecommunications equipment, sports equipment, toys, and leisure products.

While reducing the amount of hazardous chemicals in customer products is a great step – especially since many of the hazardous products restricted by RoHS have been linked to serious ailments and conditions, including cancers – testing for RoHS compliance and training manufacturers and importers to comply with the directive is a challenge. Like most regulations about consumer products, RoHS can be involved and complex. Not every manufacturer or importer reading the information about RoHS understands what is expected.

Individuals and companies who export to Member States and manufactures, retailers, and persons who rebrand electrical and electronic equipment as their own must all be trained to understand RoHS. Retailers who distribute their own brands through direct sourcing are considered to the manufacturer of the product and are responsible for ensuring compliance as well. They need to test their products to ensure compliance and they must educate themselves about the RoHS.

Under RoHS, various chemicals are assigned maximum concentration levels. It is up manufacturers, importers, some exporters, and some retailers to ensure that their products do not go above these concentrations. Cadmium, for example, which is often found in semiconductors, contacts, PVC stabilizers, pigments, batteries, coatings, and solders is to have a maximum concentration of 0.01%. Lead, commonly used in termination coatings, solders, paints and pigment, PVC stabilizers, and batteries is to have a maximum concentration of 0.1%. Mercury (often used in batteries, sensors, fluorescent lamps, and relays) Hexavalent Chromium (often used in anti-corrosive coatings and in some plastics), and Polybrominated Biphenyls and Polybrominated Diphenyl Ethers (both often used as a flame retardant) are all also to have a maximum concentration of 0.1%.

When learning about RoHS compliance and testing products it is important to note that the presence of hazardous chemicals in packaging waste also restricted. Packaging can have no more than 100 ppm sum of Cadmium, Lead, Mercury, and Chromium. Batteries and accumulators face additional restrictions. They can have no more than 0.025% cadmium, no more than 5 ppm Mercury, and no more than 0.4% lead.

Luckily for manufacturers and importers, a number of laboratories now offer RoHS compliance testing. The laboratory services can test products and packaging for trace amounts of restricted chemicals and can even provide details on the exact concentration of each chemical present. Laboratories offering these services use a number of RoHS compatible test methods, including GC-MS, GC-ECD, ICP-MS, ICP-OES, FTIR, and UV-vis. For field testing, there are portable RoHS analyzers, also known as XRF metal analyzers, which can uncover trace amounts of the restricted chemicals. Once a manufacturer or importer has had their product and packaging analyzed by a laboratory service, they have the proof to show that the products are RoHS compliant.

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