A survey of electronics companies by the IPC, a trade association whose 2700 member companies represent virtually all facets of the electronics industry, has found that more than 40% of manufacturing and purchasing personnel have no understanding of the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) environmental program as it affects their companies, even though the pre-registration of chemicals was required from June 1.
REACH, like the more familiar Restrictions on Hazardous Substances (RoHS), is a European Union (EU) environmental directive that will require all manufacturers and importers of chemicals to identify and manage risks linked to substances they produce and market.
“I was shocked,” says Fern Abrams, the IPC’s director of government relations and environmental policy.
To help get its member companies on track, the IPC used its recent Midwest Conference & Exhibition to help them better understand the REACH directive and how it impacts their business. In fact, the REACH session was by far the best attended of any of the conference’s several technical programs.
“As companies realize that they are in fact impacted by REACH, they have many questions and concerns,” says Abrams. “We’re taking a proactive approach to help our members prepare for REACH, as well as other environmental initiatives”
Beginning in late October, REACH will require importers and manufacturers of electronics products that contain certain substances to formally notify their customers about how to safely use their products. Under new rules, anyone asking a manufacturer, retailer, or distributor about the restricted substances must respond within 45 days.
Some products have already been withdrawn from the market, forcing the introduction of alternative, or substitute, products this year. Potentially, the REACH directive could affect most if not all electronics equipment if the European Chemical Agency (ECHA), the EU arm overseeing REACH, decides that certain materials are hazardous.
Abrams says REACH is “a moving target” in that the terms of the directive are still not well defined and may even be confusing to many companies. Indeed, details of the program have only recently been put online to help industry companies understand its requirements (http://echa.europa.eu/reach_en.asp).
One new development is that the European Commission (EC) will have a key role in identifying substances that are subject to regulation and will decide whether to grant authorizations for these substances. The EC will also decide what materials will be restricted.
Designers have been advised to avoid using any materials that contain hazardous substances in new product designs to avoid restrictions under REACH. Any action required by the equipment manufacturer will depend on the source of the materials and parts.
So far, 16 substances, including some used in electronics, have already been identified for review by the ECHA, but the list is expected to grow to at least 1500 chemicals.