The Swedish Chemicals Agency analysed 62 products in home electronics during the course of 2011 to check that they do not contain excessively high levels of mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and the flame retardants PBB and PBDE. These substances are restricted in electronics under EU legislation.
A total of 62 products from 52 different companies have been reviewed in the latest project. Of these, ten (around 16 per cent) were found to contain prohibited levels of the restricted substances lead, PBDE or PBB. PBDE and PBB are what are known as flame retardants, which are intended to prevent appliances catching fire. They are very toxic to aquatic organisms and can have endocrine-disrupting effects.
In addition, high levels of chromium were found in 13 products, but the analytical method used cannot determine whether it is the prohibited form of the substance that is measured. In those cases where chromium was found, the importer or manufacturer was informed of the fact and was recommended to examine for itself in what forms the substance occurred.
Six companies that had imported home electronic products that were found to contain excessive levels of lead or PBB and PBDE have been reported to an environmental prosecutor on suspicion of an environmental offence having been committed.
The Swedish Chemicals Agency has previously conducted analyses primarily on toys but also on some home electronic products. According to a project carried out in 2010, lead was found in 17 out of 79 toys (22 per cent), eight out of 29 home electronic products (28 per cent) and in two out of 21 lamps (9 per cent).
An analytical project for toys was carried out in 2011, and lead was found in 24 out of 76 products (31.6 per cent). Two of the toys were found also to contain cadmium at levels in excess of 100 ppm, and one of the toys even contained PBDE at levels in excess of 1000 ppm.
An environmental problem
The content of the regulated substances is principally an environmental problem in management of the waste, but may also pose health risks for consumers, manufacturers and waste operators.
Exposure to lead can cause damage to the nervous system and lead to impaired intellectual development and performance. Foetuses and young children are particularly sensitive.
The flame retardants PBB and PBDE are long-lived, persistent substances that may have endocrine-disrupting effects and be very toxic to aquatic organisms.
Cadmium can cause renal damage and damage to the skeleton. Both lead and cadmium additionally have environmentally hazardous properties.
Facts about the analysis
62 electric and electronic products have been analysed. The project has been run in co-operation with the Swedish National Electrical Safety Board. The products the Swedish Chemicals Agency has analysed are products that the Swedish National Electrical Safety Board has purchased from various stores in Sweden and has already had tested with respect to electrical safety.
Parts of the products were analysed using the Swedish Chemicals Agency's XRF instrument. Components containing prohibited substances were sent to an external laboratory.
Under the RoHS Directive, electronic products must not contain more than 0.1 per cent lead, mercury or hexavalent chromium, and the same limit applies to the flame retardants PBB and PBDE. The limit for cadmium is 0.01 per cent.
In 2012 the Swedish Chemicals Agency will continue to examine the application of the rules contained in the RoHS Directive.