Leadfree Solder / ROHS Rumors

Engineers of "lead-free" electronics have been more concerned about circuit failure than about environmental costs. My own criticism has been that they are replacing lead - 85% recycled content - with silver and tin, which are mining nightmares.  If you are going to protect the lined landfill at the expense of the coral reefs and rainforests, then maybe you should use baby seal pelts as packaging - they are organic and reuseable.

The buzz in the engineering community is whether "tin whiskers", these pesky little strands that naturally creep away from the printed line of solder, like rust naturally accumulates on iron, are going to short circuit electronics.  Several engineers are readying the Toyota recall press daily to see whether Toyota - an early adapter of lead-free solder - is the first casualty.

NASA and medical devices and airlines have been seeking "exemptions" from lead-free solder rules.  I'll post more when I know something.

I am not a grouch.  I just want to limit the "friendly fire" of environmentalists.  The environment is too dear to endure self inflicted wounds for the sake of political correctness.  If our policies are correct, they will be stronger for having endured critiques.

1 comment:

Bob Landman said...

Thank you clarifying the issue. As a water commissioner here in New Hampshire, I care very much about the environment.

The EPA used a synthetic procedure using acetic acid to claim that lead from electronics will leach from landfills which does not reflect the real world.

Here’s a link to a report from a Palo Alto landfill with high lead CRT’s.


There is also a report released by the Solid Waste Association of North America (SWANA) Applied Research Foundation. Released in March 2004, this concluded that heavy toxic metals, including lead, did not pose an existing or future health threat in municipal solid waste landfills.

According to the authors, "The study presents extensive data that show that heavy metal concentrations in leachate and landfill gas are generally far below the limits that have been established to protect human health and the environment."


I'm also a manufacturer of electronics systems. I'm very concerned that eliminating lead from tin-lead solder will result in the early failure of electronic products. In fact the EU said that a 3 year life was acceptable in consumer goods. Is that acceptable to you? What about our cars (which have 15% electronics in them)? Toyota now has recalls. Some may be caused by removal of lead from tin-lead solder. Sudden acceleration, headlights turning off, brakes not working, all could be linked to electronics failures.

Tin whiskers are very hard to detect. Google "NASA tin whiskers". Read what happens when you take the lead out. A cardiac pacemaker is recalled, a nuclear power plant trips out, the failure list at NASA is long... (and most failures are unreported settled lawsuits out of court).

Lead doesn’t leach from landfills because lead oxidizes fast and lead oxides don’t dissolve in water). Other compounds include carbonates and sulfates, all of which are insoluble; they will remain in the soil.

Landfills are supposed to be designed, with some of the same geohydraulic constraints that you consider when designing an earthen dam, the bed of a roadway, a reservoir, or a harbor. A landfill is supposed to "cocoon" the contents, keeping water out, and everything else in. Its inner liner will generally be made of clay, about 8 feet thick. Leaching should be almost non-existant in a properly designed landfill.

For people to complain about lead leaching from landfills is to ignore the scene of the crime. The real problem is not the lead, its the people who build a dump and then claim its a landfill. The result is the same as thinking that a dirt berm is an earthen dam.

Divers have been swimming in a former lead mine for many years (see http://www.2dive.com/btm.htm) in Bonne Terre Missouri.

There is no concern about the level of lead in the water which is in the single digits per billion.

More people will die from the removal of lead from tin-lead solder than will be saved. Since the 1940s its been known that tin whiskers will grow and systems (airplane, transit, medical, miltary, energy, etc...) will become unreliable.

At present there is no replacement for lead that stops whiskers and that is why NASA requires all space bound systems to have lead in them.

Car batteries are exempt from the EU regulation as there is not a good replacement. Eliminate car batteries and its estimated you will greatly reduce the volume of lead. 20% of car batteries never get recycled.