EU Considers PVC And Nanotech Hardware Ban

Green groups have been taking direct against HP and Dell to force a ban on of potentially toxic compounds in electronic equipment

The European Parliament is considering banning the use of potentially toxic compounds such as PVC and halogenated flame retardants in electronic equipment.

The EU Environment Committee voted this week to look into reworking elements of its Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive to include compounds not previously covered by the legislation. MEPs discussed the potentially harmful effects of PVC and halogenated flame retardants, and the ability of EU law to have an impact on their use in Europe and internationally.

“I am glad that, despite heavy pressure from the chemical industry, the Environment Committee has today voted for certain problematic substances to be highlighted for further review and a possible ban,” said UK Green and European Free Alliance MEP Jill Evans.

If imposed, the ban on PVC and certain flame retardants could be more effective than existing elements of RoHS, according to the Environment Committee. “MEPs voted in favour of an ‘open scope’, meaning that all electrical and electronic material would be covered by the legislation, unless specifically excluded,” a report on the meeting stated. “This is designed to achieve greater legal clarity than is afforded by the current rules, which take the opposite approach.”

Some uses of the compounds will be permitted, such as in renewable energy generation and military applications. Further votes on amending RoHS and the WEEE directive are expected over the next two months.

Ban On Carbon Nanotubes

The Environment Committee is also considering a ban on some forms of nanotechnology. “MEPs took a tough line on nanomaterials, an area not specifically addressed in the Commission proposal,” the report stated. “They called for a ban on nanosilver and carbon nanotubes, and said other electrical and electronic material containing nanomaterials should be labelled, and that the manufacturers should be obliged to provide safety data to the European Commission.”

Environmental campaigners have been pushing for a ban on PVC and flame retardants and have stepped up action against tech companies such as Dell and HP that continue to use them. In July last year Greenpeace activists painted a large “Hazardous Products” sign on the roof of the IT system maker’s main building in Palo Alto, California, over what it claims is the company’s u-turn on the use PVC and flame retardants.

In a blog post on the Greenpeace website entitled, “Finger-Painting for a Good Cause,” Greenpeace member Michelle Frey wrote, “Greenpeace is tired of hearing excuses from HP. They are backtracking on their commitment to eliminate PVC plastic and brominated flame retardants (BFRs) from their products by the end of 2009. Instead, they are extending the time frame two more years until they go green.”

HP responded to Greenpeace’s action by claiming that it is working to eradicate the use of the compounds. “By fall 2010 all new commercial PC products released will be BFR/PVC free. By the end of 2011 all new PC products released will be free of BFR/PVCs,” an HP spokesperson said at the time.

Apple meanwhile has been praised by green groups for eliminating the use of toxic compounds. When Apple shipped its iPhone 3GS last year, it said it was free of BFRs, PVC, arsenic, and mercury and included a power adapter that “outperforms the strictest global energy efficiency standards”.

Potentially Carcinogenic

According to Greenpeace, several forms of FRs have toxic properties and are resistant to degradation in the environment, and are able to build up in animals and humans causing potential health problems. As for PVC, the campaigner claims that the production of the substance can lead to the creation of hazardous waste which can even be carcinogenic.

Earlier this year the UK government set up an website to help gather industry and academic information on the issue of nanotechnology, to help develop a strategy around the potentially useful but controversial technology. Speaking at the time, Dan Norris MP, minister for rural affairs and the environment said the government had to understand the benefits and potential costs before pushing ahead with any significant plans.

“Nanotechnologies could bring real benefits to the economy, society and to the environment. However, we also recognise the need to understand the potential risks and how to manage them. The government is taking a leading role nationally, in Europe and internationally to bring together existing knowledge and new research to safely harness this technology’s significant potential,” he said.

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