Another Example of Shortsightedness

History abounds with examples of the Law Of Unintended Consequences. One particular example that repeats again and again is when laws are enacted that are supposed to be “good for the environment” but end up causing more harm than they prevent. And so it is with RoHS (Restrictions on Hazardous Substances). First enacted in the EU, the idea was to remove six harmful substances from consumer and commercial electronic and electrical equipment. On the face of it the idea sounds good, but there are side effects to this decision that are just now starting to make themselves felt. One such side effect I wrote about before is the coming 'Electronic Armageddon'.

Not to many believe it will come to that, where electronic and electrical appliances will start failing in ever larger numbers because of the shortsightedness of European Union lawmakers. Or at least they didn't believe me back then, but more are starting to come to the realization that it wasn't a false prediction. While the problem caused by the use of lead-free solders in electronics isn't widespread yet, it could rapidly become a major problem in short order. Who else believes this is a disaster in the making? Would you believe the IEEE and NASA?

Tin whiskers grow in the absence of lead in solder and pose a serious reliability risk to
electronic assemblies. Tin whiskers have caused system failures in both earth and spacebased
applications as well as missile systems. At least three tin whisker-induced short
circuits resulted in complete failure of in-orbit commercial satellites.

Most people think, "If it hasn’t happened to me, then I don't care about it" not realizing
that it is happening to them. Most people address problems that they know they have had
before. They do not recognize a steady drizzle of problems caused by metal whiskers. It’s
hard to "see" whiskers even when whiskers are present.

That's because they're smaller than a human hair.

The big issue with one side effect of RoHS is how the reliability of electronic and electrical systems have been or will be affected, with many people concerned that reliability will go down. So far there has been little effect on system reliability, but RoHS has not been in effect long enough to claim there will be no changes. We need to give it another year or two before any claims like that can be made.

One very big downside is RoHS is causing the use of more energy to manufacture the same products because higher processing temperatures are required in order to get lead-free solders to flow. Also, the lead-free solders use copper and silver in pace of the lead. Silver is a precious metal. It also causes far more ecological harm mining silver than it does lead. (Lead is one of the more recycled metals in use today, behind only steel, aluminum, and copper, and much of the lead used in solder comes from recycled lead.) While leaded solders are anywhere from 30 to 85% lead, with most electronic solders being around 37% lead, as little as 0.5% lead content will prevent tin whisker growth. But the EU says that lead is bad, taking much of this knowledge from the toxicity of lead paints and the tetraethyl lead once used in gasoline to boost the octane rating. But lead as used in solder for electronics isn't the same. And despite claims that lead from electronics will leach into the ground if put in a landfill, the tin/lead alloy is one form that is quite stable and won't leach into the ground. Who says so? The US Environmental Protection Agency, that's who.

So here we have feel good legislation passed in Europe that is not based on any kind of scientific evidence or studies, which in turn may cause even greater harm than it prevents. Other countries have followed suit, again with no studies of the long term impact. The EU is planning to add even more substances to their banned list even though no study has been done on the impact of the present ban, which might make the present situation even worse.

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