The European Union’s directive called Restriction of the use of certain Hazardous Substances (RoHS) limits the use of lead in many consumer electronics applications. Many companies in the consumer electronics industry have already moved toward a standard alternative for lead solder. This alternative is an alloy consisting of tin, copper, and silver (SAC alloy). However, many companies that produce high reliability electronics products for industries such as aerospace, defense, and medical are currently exempt from this directive. The Institute has been involved with the electronics industry for the past seven years to research, test, and evaluate lead-free alloys for electronics assembly to assist companies that must comply with RoHS, as well as those that are currently exempt (go to www.turi.org and click on Industry to learn more).
Heat Stabilizers for Wire and Cable Applications
There are several commercially available alternatives for heat stabilizers for use in PVC applications, including: calcium-zinc, barium-zinc, magnesium-zinc, magnesium aluminum hydroxide carbonate hydrate, and magnesium zinc aluminum hydroxide carbonate. In general, the alternatives are more desirable from a human health and environmental standpoint. Alternatives are available that meet the wire and cable technical specifications, and research on new alternatives is ongoing. The cost differential between lead and non-lead heat stabilizers is estimated to be between cost neutral and a 10% premium for mixed metal heat stabilizers, which is anticipated to diminish as mixed metal heat stabilizers gain further market acceptance and as new materials reach commercialization. In addition, research into the use of synergistic materials, such as nanoclays, suggests that a combination of materials may lead to a better cost comparison while maintaining or improving the performance of non-leaded heat stabilizers.
A U.S. EPA Design for Environment project is underway to evaluate three specific wire/cable applications. The Institute and several Massachusetts manufacturers are participating in this project, which will provide life cycle assessment information for several heat stabilizer alternatives.
There are several commercially available alternatives for fishing sinkers including bismuth, ceramic, steel, tin, and tungsten. In general, these alternatives are more desirable from a human health and environmental standpoint, though there are some data gaps for the ceramic, bismuth, and tungsten alternatives which makes it difficult to make a full comparison. No one alternative meets the technical performance requirements for every sinker type or application but each alternative is successfully being used for one or more types of sinkers. While most alternatives are several times the price of equivalent lead sinkers, steel bullet weights and egg sinkers are competitive in price to the equivalent lead sinkers.
There are several commercially available alternatives for wheel weights including copper, steel, tin, and zinc. In general, these alternatives are more desirable from a human health and environmental standpoint, with the exception of aquatic toxicity for copper and zinc. The alternatives meet the performance requirements for use in automobile applications and steel and zinc weights are currently used by auto manufacturers. Steel and zinc weights are competitive in price with the coated lead weights used by auto manufacturers.
Paints and Coatings
Because of the demanding environmental conditions encountered by traffic paint, the use of lead chromate pigments has persisted for the application of yellow traffic lines. However lead-free alternatives are available. For example, Franklin Paint Co. uses Pigment Yellow 65 and Pigment Yellow 83 for their lead-free traffic paint. Other national and international paint manufacturers provide lead-free yellow traffic paint formulations for oil based, latex based, and rubber based painting applications.
There are several commercially available alternatives for ammunition used at shooting ranges including bismuth, copper, iron, tungsten, and zinc. In general, the alternatives are more desirable from a human health and environmental standpoint, with the exception of aquatic toxicity for copper and zinc. Alternatives are available that closely approximate the ballistic performance of lead ammunition and have the benefit of being frangible, which reduces the risk of injury from ricocheted bullets and reduces wear on targets. The current purchase price for alternatives is significantly higher than lead ammunition but studies suggest that operational costs of firing ranges can be reduced through the use of lead-free ammunition.
Many available battery alternatives contain nickel, cadmium, or other toxic materials. Safer battery alternative technologies are still emerging, including many alternatives to lead-acid batteries, some of which utilize nanotechnology to improve overall performance for a variety of applications.
Endnotes: European Council of Vinyl Manufacturers (ECVM), European Council for Plasticizers and Intermediates, European Stabilizers Producers Association & European Plastics Converters 2001, Vinyl 2010.; The Voluntary Commitment of the PVC Industry; Massachusetts Office of Technical Assistance Fact Sheet: Strategies for Streamlining Testing and Certification -- Environmentally Friendly Wire and Cable; Mizuno, K., Hirukawa, H. & et al. 1999, Development of Non-Lead Stabilized PVC Compounds for Insulated Wires and Cables; Schmidt, D.F. 2005, Improved Lead-Free Wire and Cable Insulation, University of Massachusetts Lowell, Plastics Engineering Department; Toxics Use Reduction Institute, 2006, FiveChemicals Alternatives Assessment Study, available: http://www.turi.org/library/turi_publications/five_chemicals_study; Somay Products Inc., Traffic Safety Marking Paints: http://www.somay.com/manufact/traffic/index.html; United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) 2006, March 3, 2006-last update, Design for the Environment (DfE): About the Wire & Cable Partnership. Available: www.epa.gov/dfe/pubs/projects/wire-cable/about.htm  ; United States Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) b, Waste Minimization: Lead Tire Weights. Available: http://www.epa.gov/epaoswer/hazwaste/minimize/leadtire.htm [2006, May, 2006].