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Banned Chemicals Found in Consumer Electronics Pursuant to Swedish Survey

In a survey of last year that culminated in the release of a revelatory report, the Swedish Chemicals Agency (KEMI) released a finding that nearly four out of ten low-priced electronic products contained restricted chemicals. KEMI is a supervisory authority under the Swedish Ministry of the Environment and Energy.

Over the course of 2016, KEMI inspected the chemical content of 154 low-priced consumer electronics produced by 84 companies. The products concerned included, among others, USB cables, bike lights, Christmas lights and earphones. The substances that were being investigated were lead, cadmium, certain phthalates, short chain chlorinated paraffins and brominated flame retardants.

Thus, KEMI was assessing whether the surveyed products contained substances that are prohibited under the Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs) Regulation and the Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) Directive, or are subject to a duty to communicate or obtain authorisation under the Regulation on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH).

In the latter instance (concerning REACH), Hong Kong traders should know that there is a so-called candidate list of substances that are deemed to be of very high concern (known as ‘SVHC’). For any substance on that list, all suppliers of articles that contain more than 0.1% of that substance have the responsibility to ensure that certain safe-use information, available to the supplier, must be provided to each commercial recipient in the supply chain. In addition, a consumer has the right to request such information. Where he does so, the supplier addressed must respond with the information within a 45 day period.

As for the restricted chemicals, the Swedish inspections demonstrated that 38% of the products examined (58 products) had a content of prohibited chemicals that exceeded the tolerated concentration values. KEMI pointed out that the inspections were conducted by means of random checks and the results therefore do not necessarily represent the entire low-priced consumer electronics market.

The most commonly found prohibited substances were lead, which can have toxic effects particularly on the human nervous system, and short-chain chlorinated paraffins, which are an environmental hazard and suspected carcinogen.

In this respect, KEMI found elevated levels of lead inside the soldering of certain products. While this soldering might not be accessible to a consumer, the lead released through the soldering process during manufacture could have been released into the environment, thus raising concerns.

Kemi also detected the presence of plasticising phthalates in several products. Certain phthalates are classified as SVHC whose use is, moreover, conditioned on Commission authorisation under the EU’s REACH Regulation.

As a result of KEMI’s findings, sales of all products containing prohibited substances above legal concentration limit values were brought to an end, and the products were withdrawn from the market.

Hong Kong traders of electrical and electronic goods should be aware that KEMI reported thirty companies to prosecutors for suspected environmental offences. For those chemicals detected which are prohibited under the RoHS directive, KEMI reported the relevant manufacturers and importers of the product at issue. If the chemical was prohibited under the POPs Regulation or subject to the REACH Regulation, KEMI reported distributors of the product as well.

KEMI’s report concluded that low priced consumer electronics have “a high rate of non-compliance regarding restricted substances, labels and documentation.”

It emphasised that although individual consumers may not be in any immediate danger from the use of these products, they nonetheless pose a cumulative environmental and health risk. The products should therefore continue to be the target of future enforcement activities.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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