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The Restriction of Hazardous Substances (RoHS) directive was introduced into Europe in 2002 and is being applied broadly throughout the electronics/electrical sector. China promulgated a similar directive in 2006 that is scheduled to come into effect on 1 March 2007.
The likes of cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, lead and some hazardous additives to plastics have been used for decades in a vast array of manufactured goods.
In the plumbing sector, solder was changed over to lead-free compositions some time back, given the obvious dangers that plumbers faced when soldering joints, particularly in confined spaces.
Such directives are challenging the minds of researchers and influencing manufacturing methods. Manufacturers at the forefront of change are turning the problems into opportunities by differentiating their products.
Electronics supplier Panasonic claims to be the first company to sell lead-free plasma display panels. However, most consumers were probably not aware of the use of lead in these products.
In this case, the lead component was in the lead-oxide glass. Panasonic developed another way of stabilizing the glass panels, resulting in the elimination of about 2oz (70g) of lead in a 37-inch (94cm) plasma panel.