A year has passed since the last EU RoHS Update and it’s been a busy year for Everyone’s Favorite Directive. Here is where we stand:

New RoHS Policy Officer

With the change in government in the EU, we now have a new RoHS Policy Officer, Michele Canova, who replaces Hans-Christian Eberle. From Italy, Mr. Canova has a degree in chemical engineering and a background that includes work in the private sector, as well as government positions at the local, national and international (European Commission) levels. Mr. Canova addressed the ANSI Chemicals Network, which I am a moderator for, last month and has a solid grasp of the Directive and the outstanding issues.

Additional Substances

Four phthalates (Bis (2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP), Butyl benzyl phthalate (BBP), Dibutyl phthalate (DBP), and Diisobutyl phthalate (DIBP)) will be restricted to 0.1% MCV by weight in homogeneous materials by the RoHS Directive from July 22, 2019 for products in categories 1-7 and 10 and 11, and from July 22, 2021 for products in categories 8 and 9. As I write this the official implementing communication from the European Commission has not been issued, but we can expect it soon.

If you haven’t done so already, manufacturers should begin to assess whether and where they use these four substances and work on replacements as soon as budget can be provided. While most known applications have already identified and suppliers are implementing replacement substances, there may be others lurking about in your products. Given the timeline and fact that you may have to apply for an exemption and, furthermore, given that the Commission has no obligation for a specific timeframe for new exemptions per Article 5, paragraph 4 and the fact that there are now 87 applications ahead of any you may write (see below), four years may not be long enough to obtain an exemption if needed.

Last summer the Öko-Institut issued the "Study for the Review of the List of Restricted Substances under RoHS 2: Analysis of Impacts from a Possible Restriction of Several New Substances under RoHS 2”. The study provides a deeper assessment of DIBP and, in order to address the goal of “provid[ing] input concerning quantitative usage data for the 21 priority substances in EEE identified by the Austrian Umweltbundesamt GmbH (Enviroment Agency Austria), or where this is not possible, a magnitude ranking, with a view to a refined prioritisation for future review cycles,” presents collected information regarding toxicity and use of a variety of substances prioritized in a previous study by the Austrian Umweltbundesamt GmbH.

The study upends the older Austrian study by advising high prioritization of PVC alone, then bucketing the rest into medium, low, and “assessment can be made at a later stage in light of the lower relevance to EEE.” One of the significant barriers Öko-Institut faced in the analysis was verifying the presence of many of the substances in EEE; they suggested that a supply chain survey be conducted as part of a follow-on study. Any effort on this would most likely result in a timeline extending into the next decade for the addition of more restricted substances to the RoHS Directive.

Exemption Expirations and Applications for Renewal

All Annex III exemptions without defined expiration dates are slated to expire on July 21, 2016, per Article 5 of the RoHS Directive. Applications for renewal beyond this time had to be submitted to the European Commission prior to January 21, 2016. Ultimately, 87 applications were submitted across 47 exemptions, meaning some exemptions received more than a single application, and some exemptions received no applications so will expire on July 21, 2016.

A batch of 4 applications were submitted in the last quarter of 2014 and thereby got to the head of the line (“Pack 7”). The published timeline indicates that the project began at the end of December, 2014 and will extend through September, 2015. This should give the Commission adequate time to address these 4 applications prior to the tacit January 21, 2016 deadline.

Article 5 says “The Commission shall decide on an application for renewal of an exemption no later than 6 months before the expiry date of the existing exemption unless specific circumstances justify other deadlines.” This means that all exemption applications should, in theory, be addressed by January 21, 2016. But that is simply not going to happen due to the sheer volume of applications and the resource constraints at Öko-institut and the Commission.

After discussions with Mr. Canova I fully expect the “unless specific circumstances justify other deadlines” clause to be invoked. This would delay assessment of most of the remaining exemption applications. Further, any delay in decisions past January 21, 2016 will push out the actual expiration of any exemptions that are being assessed past July 21, 2017, per Article 5, paragraph 6:

In the event that the application for renewal of an exemption is rejected or that an exemption is revoked, the exemption shall expire at the earliest 12 months, and at the latest 18 months, after the date of the decision.

An interesting wrinkle in this is the fact that some exemption renewal applications, including those for Exemptions 15 and 7(b), request renewing the exemption but for a narrower scope of product. Clients of mine wanted to understand more about how this impacts the expiration dates for the product that are within the scope of the exemption but outside the scope of the renewal application. Turns out those products, too, benefit from the application: the actual expiration date can be expected to be pushed out 12 to 18 months. For example, assuming Quintech’s narrowly-scoped exemption 7(b) renewal is addressed on January 21, 2016, regardless of the outcome – whether it is approved or rejected – the expiration date of the more general 7(b) exemption will be no earlier than January 21, 2017. I have asked Mr. Canova to document this for the industry, as it is not self-evident from reading the Directive.

Conclusion

On top of this, there’s a project on clarifying and impact-assessing the scope expansion described in Article 2, paragraph 2. I don’t have the space to discuss that in this month’s MarketEye segment. The bottom line is that Mr. Canova will be very busy, and manufacturers within the electrical and electronics industry must understand how important it is to keep on top of the still-very-dynamic RoHS Directive.

Mike Kirschner


Mike Kirschner

Mike Kirschner is a product environmental compliance and performance expert who provides advice and expertise to manufacturers in a variety of industries. His primary areas of focus include EU RoHS, the impact of EU's REACH regulation on article manufacturers, California’s Safer Consumer Products regulation, and performance standards like IEEE-1680.x for electronics. Mike helps manufacturers define, implement and troubleshoot internal management systems that result in compliant products, and assesses and monitors environmental regulations around the world on their behalf.

He contributed two chapters to the Governance, Risk, and Compliance Handbook, published by Wiley in 2008, and is featured in the critically acclaimed book, Exposed: The Toxic Chemistry of Everyday Products and What's at Stake for American Power. In 2009 he was appointed to the California EPA Department of Toxic Substance Control's Green Ribbon Science Panel. Prior to joining ENVIRON, Mike founded product lifecycle and environmental consultancy Design Chain Associates, LLC (DCA), where he served as president and managing partner. Before founding DCA in 2001, Mike spent 20 years in engineering and engineering management roles within the electronics industry with manufacturers including Intel and Compaq. He holds a BS in electrical engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute.

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