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New Exemptions under RoHS Directive Published

On 15 July 2016, Delegated Directive 2016/1028 and Delegated Directive 2016/1029 entered into force, each one introducing a new exemption from the general rule restricting the use of, respectively, lead and cadmium in electrical and electronic equipment (EEE). Lead and cadmium are two of the ten substances, the use of which is restricted in EEE by the RoHS Directive (2011/65/EU) on the restriction of hazardous substances in EEE.

The maximum concentration of lead that is tolerated in EEE that is placed on the EU market is 0.1%, while for cadmium it is 0.01%. However, Annexes III and IV to the RoHS Directive contain a list of exemptions to this general restriction, for certain specific applications.

The new Delegated Directive 2016/1028, which was published in the EU’s Official Journal on 25 June 2016, introduces a new exemption in Annex IV to the RoHS Directive. Annex IV contains exemptions specific to medical devices and monitoring and control instruments.

The newly introduced exemption concerns “lead in solders of electrical connections to temperature measurement sensors in devices which are designed to be used periodically at temperatures below – 150 °C”. The exemption will apply until 30 June 2021. Hong Kong traders exporting such goods to the EU should thus be aware that, when these products are designed for the above-mentioned use, the maximum concentration of 0.1% for lead will not apply. 

The RoHS Directive provides for the possibility of the European Commission to add specific applications which are exempt from the general restriction, in order to adapt the Annexes to scientific and technical progress.

The European Commission justifies the introduction of this new exemption by reference to the fact that there currently is no reliable lead-free alternative for these appliances operating at such low temperatures. Lead-free solders cannot be used in cryogenic (– 150 °C) applications, as the tin contained in the solders transforms when exposed to these temperatures. This process, known as ‘tin pest’, affects the reliability of the appliances. Furthermore, the European Commission deems it unlikely that the new exemption will have an adverse effect on innovation, given the innovation cycles for medical devices and monitoring instruments.

In addition, by means of new Delegated Directive 2016/1029, which was also published in the EU’s Official Journal on 25 June 2016, another new exemption has been introduced in Annex IV to the RoHS Directive. It notes that cadmium is present in the anodes of Hersch Cells, which are used in specialised, high-sensitivity oxygen sensors. In comparison to the Hersch cell sensors, all available alternative technologies do not provide the same sensitivity, reliability and accuracy when measuring oxygen concentration at very low levels.

The reliability of alternatives to Hersch Cells using cadmium for oxygen sensors in industrial monitoring and control instruments is not ensured where sensitivity below 10 parts per million is required. The use of cadmium anodes in Hersch cells for oxygen sensors used in industrial monitoring and control instruments, where sensitivity below 10 parts per million is required, should therefore be exempted from the prohibition.

As there are currently no cadmium-free alternatives which are sufficiently reliable for the specific use, and considering that for monitoring and control instruments seven years is a relatively short transition period which is unlikely to have adverse impacts on innovation, a seven year validity period of exemption should be granted.

The EU Member States must amend their legislation in order to comply with both new exemptions described above by 30 April 2017 at the latest.

Hong Kong traders may wish to be reminded of the important main changes that have previously been brought to the RoHS Directive. Virtually all electrical appliances and electronic goods are subject to the RoHS restrictions. Essentially, until the middle of last year, the RoHS Directive had banned only six hazardous substances in all EEE (subject to any named exemptions). Pursuant to a new Directive (Directive 2015/863) that was published on 4 June 2015 (therefore just over a year ago), four phthalates (DEHP, BBP, DBP and DIBP) were added to the list of restricted substances. The available evidence indicates that those four substances, when used in EEE, can have a negative impact on recycling, and on human health and the environment during EEE waste management operations.

Thus, the relatively recent extended list of restricted substances, together with maximum permitted concentration values, tolerated by weight in homogenous materials, is as follows:

  1. Lead (0.1%)
  2. Mercury (0.1%)
  3. Cadmium (0.01%)
  4. Hexavalent chromium (0.1%)
  5. Polybrominated biphenyls (PBB) (0.1%)
  6. Polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDE) (0.1%)
  7. Bis(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) (0.1%)
  8. Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP) (0.1%)
  9. Dibutyl phthalate (DBP) (0.1%)
  10. Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP) (0.1%)

Member States have to adopt and publish their transposition of Directive 2015/863 by 31 December 2016. Directive 2015/863 has also provided for certain periods of transition in the application of the newly restricted substances. Overall, but subject to the specific transition periods for certain product categories, Member States must apply the new provisions of Directive  2015/863 from 22 July 2019.

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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