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RoHS watchdog reports less violations in 2007

Posted: 13 Jun 2008 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:RoHS violation? lead content? EU RoHS directive?

The U.K. National Weights and Measures Laboratory (NWML), the country's RoHS enforcement authority, reported that RoHS violations in general are diminishing as the industry comes to terms with compliance practices.

The group made test purchases of products and identified much higher levels of compliance than in 2006, according to Chris Smith, head of RoHS enforcement for the NWML. After a similar test in late 2006, NWML found very little product that complied at all.

In 2007, the first full year of compliance enforcement, NWML detected some 300 cases of non-compliance that were resolved in a positive way by engaging with the company and remedying the situation, he said.

Additionally, authorities sent out 25-30 compliance notices, 10 enforcement notices and brought two cases to justice.

Of the two cases "brought to justice," Smith would only give a broad outline.

Both were U.K. companies importing from the Far East. One case involved a company aware of RoHS but for commercial reasons "they took decisions that were not appropriate," Smith said.

The second involved a product with a significant amount of mercury.

Formal caution
Both cases received a formal caution from the NWML, but didn't result in fines because the companies weren't taken to court. However, the companies still took a financial hit due to the corrective action required.

"For example, the company had to prove to us they had used an environmentally appropriate mechanism for disposal of the item containing mercury and that was a significant cost to them," Smith said.

The only other significant RoHS case involved authorities stopping a shipment of non-compliant products before it entered the EU port.

"We informed the company involved and had a cooperative engagement with customs to make sure the shipment didn't enter the EU," Smith said.

A significant number of tips come from whistleblowers using the NWML hotline, he added.

Work in progress
Though compliance has significantly improved in two years, some areas still need to be worked on.

Authorities initially zeroed in on the highest risk areas by engaging large manufacturers with dominant market share.

"If well-known companies had got it wrong, there would have been a high environmental impact," Smith said. "We've reduced that risk and are now looking more at other areas."

The NWML will now be looking at more closely at low-priced, high-volume products that are unbatched, such as toys.

Smith suggested companies should work on correctly assessing compliance documents, which is the most problematic area.

Companies receive test reports from suppliers, but often employees haven't been able to read them or the reports don't demonstrate compliance.

"In a number of cases, test reports demonstrated non-compliance and were presented to us as compliance information," he said. "Often it comes down to the inability of people in the organization to understand what they are looking at."

As for substances, lead is still around.

"We've seen the most engagement over lead still in solder or in contamination," Smith said "We're still seeing a lot of 60/40 tin lead solder and we consider that significant and will take action."

Other substance problems are hexavalent chromium used on fasteners and plated products and lead used in PVC as a stabilizer.

Soon, deca-BDE will come under scrutiny because the exemption for that substance ends on July 1, 2008, he added.

- Drew Wilson
EE Times

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