LEAD SOLDER--environmental activitism at its worst
WTO Trade Agreements Supersede U.S. Environmental Laws
Red Slime in fish products; Pink Slime in ground meats
Roundup, Monsanto's Scientific Fraud
Caspain Sea oil drilling blowout by BP, and others
Ever hundred years California's Mega Flood
BUSH's (neoconservatives) Environmental Record
Artic Melt Down--23% for 07-08
EPA libraries closed tight by Bush
Bush's Envioronmental Record
Gulf Stream flow down 30%
Protecting New Orleans--Scientific American
EU Energy Policies
No More Environmental Cleanups, Superfund is Dry
MERCURY EMISSIONS: environment & legislation
Environmental collapse of Easter Island--Jared Diamond
cartoons political
More on government priority cartoons
more cartoons
Organic Farming Comparison
Animal Feed Laws
Bush and the Endanger Species Act
Republicans stop toxic site clean up
Bush's Environmental Record--Al Franken
Pied Piper & Environmental Policy--Hightower
Death stats on first atomic energy experiments
Rabbits cruelly butchered, USDA regulation changed
Meat Consumption and Risk of Colorectal Cancer
LEAD SOLDER--environmental activitism at its worst

Skeptical Briefs, Vol. 15, No. 2, June 2005

Skeptical Inquirer, P.O. Box 703, Amherst NY 14226-0703



Stupid politicians are like stupid populace.  A recent article in Scientific American was on how the politician in Nigeria blocked polio vaccination because they either (or both) spread AIDS or made Muslim women sterile.  In the case below, lead solder for electronics amounts to less than 1% of total lead usage and the replacement lead-free solder is more environmentally unfriendly, and the alternative is inferior insofar as (a) requiring significantly more heat for soldering, (b) which itself can cause component failure, (c) and is brittle which can cause joint failure and thus product failure.   More heat means more use of fossil fuels, and the replacement of equipment which will cost 10s of billions of dollars.   Moreover, the only way to get lead poisoning is through ingestion, and ingestion is electronic components is unknown; it is not like the chipping lead pain on old walls.  But the people have made being environmentally friendly a condition for election; thus we have the ignorant electing politician.  Politicians will be politicians.--jk


A Phantom Menace?

BILL BUSHER, Skeptical Briefs, June 2005

Let's start with a fable. A decree goes forth from the European Union based on the belief that Earth is flat. E.U. member states are not con­vinced by scientific evidence to the contrary. Of course, most legislators, being lifetime politicians and little schooled in the scientific method, think

this a most wise decision. After all, even if they are wrong, what harm can it do to change a few maps?

The United States, being somewhat more enlightened, opts for a wait-and-see attitude. After all, even if the Europeans are right, what could happen? A few careless travelers might fall off the edge of the world, but even a cursory examination of the evi­dence shows that Earth had been, and prob­ably still is, round.  In an effort to educate the masses, semi­nars, courses, and conferences are held. Not one seminar agenda, not one course syl­labus, and not any of the conferences containing contrary to this politically safe but scientifically unsound path. Eventually, the populace becomes convinced that Earth is flat. The dangers of falling off the edge of Earth are cause enough to warrant legisla­tion prohibiting travel to the edge of the world. And it is made so.

A brief bit of background information is necessary to understand the point of that fable. We all enjoy the benefits of modern technology. Computers, global-positioning devices, cell phones, satellite radio, and even intelligent refrigerators have become com­monplace. They are manifestations of con­stantly evolving technologies that not so long ago gave us crystal radio sets and telephone switchboard systems. Modern or primitive, all of these devices are made up of compo­nents such as resistors, transistors, and more recently, integrated circuits such as those that provide computer memory. The "glue" that holds them together is solder. An alloy of tin/lead has been found to have the opti­mum mechanical and thermal properties to act as a conductive, permanent bond. It is plentiful, cheap to produce, and reliable.

In June 2000, the European Union passed restrictive legislation known as the RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances) Directive. The largest impact this directive and associated legislation will have is to ban the use of lead in electronic products by July 1, 2006. This includes electronics imported into the E.U. On the surface, this seems like a good idea. One only has to conjure up images of little tykes chewing on chips of lead-based paint and the resultant toxic effects to understand the motives behind such an effort. Who would argue against lim­iting that exposure? After all, the Latin word for lead, plumbum, is the root of the medical term for lead poisoning: plumbism.

At the risk of being called an anti-envi­ronmentalist, I submit that the manufactur­ers of electronic circuit boards and the asso­ciated industries are being moved (a better verb might be dragged) in a direction that makes little sense. The positive effects on the environment will be negligible to nonexis­tent, while the industry's costs for redesign, revalidation, fabrication, assembly, and rework will be immense, all in the name of political correctness and bad science.

Consider the following:  Yearly lead usage in electronics in the U.S. accounts for around 0.5 percent of total usage, while ammunition accounts for 5 percent and car batteries top the list at over 80 percent, according to the IPC (Institute for Printed Circuits), an associa­tion, based in the United States, that deals with electronics issues.  According to the IPC, the ban on lead usage in electronics is entirely European. No similar legislation is pending or has been proposed in the United States.

The amount of lead that leaches into groundwater from electronics-industry waste is negligible. Some studies suggest that silver and antimony may pose more of a threat than lead in landfills, since these materials are more soluble under certain groundwater conditions.[i]  The replacements for tin-lead solder alloys (the most common of which is a silver-tin-copper mix) have not been shown to be any less toxic.[ii]

The military, wary that the incidence of "tin whiskers" (hair-like crystal structures that grow from tin-coated surfaces and are known to cause electrical failures) may increase, is resisting the use of lead-free sol­der but may ultimately have no choice but to change, given the diminishing availability of leaded materials.[iii]

Assembled circuit boards need to be sol­dered. They are sent through a conveyer-like transport system into a chamber containing a bath of molten solder. The boards skim over the surface of the pool, which results in the connections on the underside being sol­dered. These "wave solder machines" as they are called, use energy, and lots of it. Amkor, a manufacturing resource for many semi­conductor companies, says that the temper­atures at which the replacement solders melt is approximately 37 degrees Celsius higher than for leaded solders. Multiply this by the thousands of machines in use worldwide, and you can have an appreciation for the upward surge in energy usage.

Still not convinced it's a bad idea? There are many industry experts that are very wor­ried about the fact that the new alloys do not form joints as strong as leaded alloys. Recent investigations have revealed that lead-free solder joints may be fragile and prone to premature interfacial failure, par­ticularly under sudden stress.[iv] This may mean very poor reliability and lower yields. Lower reliability sounds like an abstract notion best left to the engineers to deal with, until your cell phone goes dead or your car doesn't start. The effects of higher fabrication temperatures on devices not nec­essarily designed (or tested) to withstand the higher temperatures will have an impact on design, procurement, testing, and reliability of those items.

A 1997 study by the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences estimated the cost of no-lead solder to the U.S. electronics industry to be in the tens of billions of dol­lars.[v]  This and other associated costs will no doubt be passed on in some measure to con­sumers. Unfortunately, the consumer may make matters worse. When purchasing, for example, a new DVD player (if prices and features are similar), which one do you think most people would buy? Would it be the one with the "green" sticker proclaim­ing, "Does not contain lead"? Remember that the only way to get lead poisoning is through ingestion. Mull over that fact the next time you are taking sips of wine from your expensive leaded crystal.  But since the ban doesn't take effect until mid-2006, this won't have any effect on us for a while, right? Wrong: some cell phones and other products (Sony Playstations, for example) are being pro­duced with non-lead-based solder right now. Intel, Texas Instruments, and other manufacturers of myriad "pieces/parts" that go into electronic devices, such as memory chips, microprocessors, resistors, and capac­itors, have already started to fabricate and sell parts that contain the lead-free solders. Recent surveys indicate that only about 60 percent will be compliant by the deadline. Even though the ban is European in origin, not even American companies that sell products only domestically will be immune, as the manufacture of parts and processes worldwide continues to convert to the use of lead-free solder.

By now (hopefully), you are starting to ponder the question: "Why?" The IPC vig­orously (and successfully) fought U.S. legis­lation to ban leaded solder in 1992. IPC President Dennis McGuirk said, "the. IPC . . . recognizes that there are no data indicat­ing environmental or health hazards posed by lead in printed wiring board manufactur­ing and electronics assembly." Nevertheless, the official IPC position, issued in 1999, reads, in part: "IPC prefers global rather than regional solutions to this issue, and is encouraging a coordinated approach to the voluntary reduction or elimination of lead by the electronic interconnection industry.”  The premise was that the ban was an ill-conceived overreaction to a non-problem, and it is.  Why then is the industry being encouraged to keep diverting energy and money into lead elimination when end-of-life recycling improvements would be much more beneficial?

There are exemptions in the ban. Joe Fjelstad, an international authority and innovator in the field of electronic intercon­nection, states that "The absurdity in the lead-ban effort is the number of exemptions there are for lead (e.g., 93.5% of all lead uses are exempted, while lead in electronic solder represents less than 0.5% of all lead used)."[vi]   And lead-free solder is not the same as lead-

free electronics. The vast majority of the lead used in a computer is found in the tube envelope inside the monitor—as much as 2.59 pounds, according to the World Semi­conductor Council.[vii] Ironically, the monitor is exempted from the ban, due to the lack of a viable alternative. Computer servers and telecommunications are also not covered. It may be instructive to note that those are considered high-reliability applications. Does this uncover uncertainties on the part of legislators regarding possible degradation of those products? What can we expect from those applications considered lower on the reliability food chain, i.e., products you and I are more likely to purchase?

Banning lead in solder is unscientific political correctness at its worst. Preying on the fears of an environmentally jittery but well-meaning public, it will cost the elec­tronics industry and consumers dearly while reducing the overall reliability of the prod­ucts. Lead-free solder simply does not work as well as the leaded version. Scientific data documenting the harmful effects of lead content in electronics has not been clearly established. No case has ever been docu­mented of lead poisoning resulting from sol­der in electronics.

Production lines will slow down, due to increased process times more inspections, and yield problems. (For example, since lead-free solder joints differ from tin-lead in appearance, quality guidelines for visual inspection will require modification.).  Costs will rise due to issues such as more expensive materials (silver instead of lead) and increased mining costs. All of this begs the question: Why replace a perfectly good material that has virtually no effect on the environment, that is cheap, plentiful, and a proven performer, and that is being recycled in large quantities now, with problem alloys that require much more energy to process?   I don't know either.


Busher is a. quality systems engineer work­ing for INFICON in East Syracuse, N.Y., a manufacturer of high-tech process monitoring and control instrumentation. He is a two-time chair of the Syracuse Section of the American Society for Quality, Immediate Past President of the Technology Alliance of Central New York, and will soon serve as the president of Central New York Skeptics.

[i]  Pb-Free.com. Frequently asked questions.

[ii]  Edwin B. Smith and L. Kristine Swanger. Lead fret- solders: A push in the wrong direction. K-Tec Electronics.


[iii]  The Boeing Company. 2002. Boeing Environ­mental Technotes. November.

[iv]  Peter Borgeson and Donald W. Henderson. 2004. Fragility of Pb-free solder joints. Universal Instruments.


[v]   Circuitnet. 2004. Technology news. November.

[vi]   Joseph Fjelstad. 2002. The death of common sense. CircuiTree.

[vii]  World Semiconductor Council. 2001. Lead free white paper.

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People get the government that they deserve. Politicans such as Bush are elected because if the common person was in office, he would become another venal politican