10 Aug 2018
Sweden Calls on EU to Restrict Additional Substances in Electronics Under RoHS
The Swedish Chemicals Agency (SCA) has released a report proposing that the European Commission restrict the use of medium-chained chlorinated paraffins (MCCPs) in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE) under the RoHS Directive. MCCPs are mostly used as flame retardants and plasticisers in PVC cables, and are common in network and television cables. The substances are already classified as hazardous. Moreover, certain MCCPs appear to meet the criteria for persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic (PBT) substances.
As Hong Kong’s electronics exporters well know, the RoHS Directive’s objective is to restrict the prevalence of hazardous substances and ensure that manufacturers change to less dangerous substitutes where possible. Through the SCA’s proposal, Sweden will become the first Member State to utilise the procedure under the Directive to suggest restrictions for new substances.
“We’re concerned about the environmental impact of medium-chained chlorinated paraffins. This group of substances is classified as very toxic to aquatic life, for both acute and chronic exposure. We’re now proposing that levels of these substances in electrical and electronic equipment above 0.1% are banned”, said Johanna Löfbom, Senior Technical Officer at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.
The proposed maximum concentration of MCCPs in electrical and electronic equipment is 0.1% by weight per homogenous material. This is expected to significantly reduce the identified risks, and will certainly necessitate a shift in current production methods for Hong Kong and other manufacturers selling to EU customers.
The main use of MCCPs is as a secondary plasticiser, and its high chlorine content makes it an effective flame retardant. According to the SCA’s report, MCCPs are typically found in flexible PVC used as sheathing and insulation jackets for cables and wires with a rated voltage of less than 250 Volts. These are used in the vast majority of electronic or electrical household appliances, such as washing machines, refrigerators, hairstyling equipment, internet hubs, telephones, extractor fans, televisions, radios and computers. MCCPs used in PVC are normally added in amounts of 10-20% by weight of total plastic.
In addition, MCCPs can be used as plasticisers and flame retardants in adhesives and sealants. For example foam polyurethanes, a foam used due to its flame retardant properties, can contain up to 20% MCCPs and are used in for example foam sheets, furniture, bedding and cars. Non-foam polyurethanes, also referred to as “potting compounds,” also contain MCCPs and are used by electrical and electronics industries to protect, seal and insulate fragile, pressure-sensitive microelectronic components and printed circuit boards. Finally, MCCPs are used as plasticisers in a number of paints and varnishes intended for use on EEE. The concentration of MCCPs by weight in coatings and lacquers typically ranges from 1-5%.
As part of its investigation, the SCA commissioned a socioeconomic assessment showing that although substitutes for MCCPs are more costly, additional costs are relatively low for both producers and consumers. The alternatives identified in the study include phthalates, adipates, citrates, trimellitates, phosphates, aluminium hydroxide and longer chain chloro alkanes (LCCPs).
The report acknowledges that these substitutes generally do not combine the flame retardant and plasticising properties of MCCPs, meaning that more than one raw material will have to be used and costs are therefore likely to increase. For EU producers, these costs are estimated to reach €4.8 million in investment expenses for the EU industry, with an added annual €27 million in raw material costs. The cost is however not expected to make EU producers less competitive. The cost would likely be passed on to consumers and cause (it is suggested) a less than €1 increase for a large household appliance, such as a fridge, when sold on the EU market.
In addition to being highly toxic to aquatic organisms and appearing to meet the criteria for PBT, there are several other risks with using MCCPs. The substances are considered as potentially harmful for breast-fed children and could harm workers active in the shredding or recycling of PCV cables. Incineration and landfilling of electronic and electrical equipment waste also bear risks, in that MCCPs may leak into the environment.