RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) is a piece of legislation created by the EU to reduce the harmful effects of dangerous substances to people and the environment. Here's why it's important to EEs!

The Beginnings of RoHS

RoHS has its roots in the European Union back in 2003. The goal of RoHS (Reduction of Hazardous Substances) is to reduce the environmental effect and health impact of electronics. The legislation's primary purpose is to make electronics manufacturing safer at every stage of an electronic device's life cycle.

Of course, there are individuals and even large-scale distributors who continue to use non-RoHS parts (I am guilty of this). This is because RoHS compliance can be difficult to fully comprehend and is generally inconvenient and expensive even at the governmental level.

Why should we as individuals and businesses alike care about RoHS? Why should we have to pay more for our projects and consumer goods instead of getting cheaper components because they are not RoHS compliant?

In the past, this was a question of ethics and—let’s face it—most of us have gone for the cheaper, non-RoHS option because we cry when we open our wallets to pay for the more expensive lead-free solder.

Using non-RoHS parts is now a legal matter: you have to use RoHS parts for any product that will sell in the EU. This is because all EU products have to conform to the European standards, denoted by the CE mark on European products, if they are to be sold.


Seen this before? This is the European conformity symbol for products. Image courtesy of Euronews.


At the end of the day, the decision comes down to you as a maker. But before you fill your basket with a kilogram of lead-based, non-RoHS components, read this article and see if you still feel the same way.


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Why Was RoHS Introduced?

Most governments try to collect as much tax revenue as they can. For example, in most cases, as your wage increases so does your income tax. Governments also attempt to create laws that will help reduce public spending, such as obesity awareness to reduce stress on hospitals. RoHS, however, does not save governments money in any immediate sense and, in fact, can have a negative monetary impact on many businesses both large and small. So why was it introduced?

RoHS was introduced to improve the welfare of consumers, distributors, manufacturers, and the environment. Since the early 20th century, chemicals have been introduced into manufacturing for their useful properties such as the luminescence of radium or the low melting point of 60/40 lead-tin alloy. Due to their relatively recent introduction into production use, the harmful effects of such chemicals has not been widely understood (if at all), which has resulted in years of unnecessary exposure of both people and the environment to dangerous materials.


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A classic example of such a chemical is asbestos. It is incredibly easy to mine, easy to use, and has very useful properties as a fire retardant. But, unknown to the general public at the time, asbestos is a highly dangerous carcinogenic when machined into dust (from a power tool, for example) and then breathed in. This has resulted in hundreds of thousands of individuals exhibiting adverse health conditions such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, and asbestosis.

In response to such problems, the EU has been introducing legislation to try to reduce the use of harmful substances. On January 27th, 2003, the European Union created the RoHS directive 2002/95/EC, which prevents the use of harmful substances in products.


How Does This Affect Me?

RoHS is there for your own safety, plain and simple. While you may believe that there is no immediate threat from substances such as lead and beryllium oxide, the issue with such chemicals is their long term exposure. Simply washing your hands does not remove the negative effects of these substances because exposure is not limited to consumption.

Exposure to a chemical is when your body is in physical contact with said chemical, which includes holding it with bare hands.

The biggest non-RoHS chemicals are:

  • Lead
  • Cadmium
  • Mercury
  • Most brominated plastics (PBB, PBDE)


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Even if you do not agree with RoHS, you have to comply—especially if you sell products in the EU market. All EU products, aside from select exemptions, have to conform to CE. A company found to be selling non-compliant parts will be prosecuted, fined, and can even face the possibility of imprisonment.

Still, there is sometimes resistance to RoHS compliance, often because it is costly to a manufacturing business. Besides the initial costs of changing a company's standards, which can be substantial, continual effort must be made to maintain compliance. The combination of RoHS-compliant implementation and maintenance can be extremely expensive—millions of dollars, in some cases.

What about private use? What about repairs? Fixing an old TV with lead solder is fine if the TV is for personal use, but if the repair is for a customer, then that solder HAS to be lead-free (unless the product was produced before the inclusion of the RoHS directive).

When it comes to individual people complying with RoHS, the logic is as follows: Why should a customer be exposed to a dangerous substance without their knowledge? Do we have the right to make such a decision for them?


Lead is a very dangerous heavy metal that has applications in industries all over the world. Image courtesy of L. Chang.


Secondary Impacts of Non-RoHS Parts

The customer isn't the only one affected by non-RoHS parts. For the part to arrive at their house, it has to be shipped and packaged, which is mostly done by hand (especially in countries such as China and India). The act of packaging puts employees at risk as they are exposed to harmful substances. For those employees to package the part, that part had to be manufactured, which again would exposes the workers who handle the part during manufacturing.

But the life of a non-RoHS part does not end at the final product. Once the product has been used and is no longer needed (broken, outdated, etc.), it is usually thrown away either to a recycling center or a landfill.

While workers in a recycling facility use protective equipment, a landfill is just a hole in the ground. As time goes by, water can carry trace amounts of the harmful substances and pollute the ground over time. Harmful substances don’t usually degrade (such as lead and mercury) and so continue to run through the ground. Eventually, they will find themselves in places such as the ocean and underground water reserves which can further pollute wildlife and food sources.


Harmful substances always find a way back into the environment. Image credit: Tupungato, courtesy of


A classic example of such pollution is with tuna. Tuna is a long-lived fish and, as a result, contains trace amounts of mercury and lead. This is the result of waste dumping into the oceans where fish that live longer have more time to absorb such harmful substances.


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The Final Word

Next time you wish to purchase a non-RoHS part, think about who made that part, who was exposed to hazardous materials during its production, and the life cycle of that part. Just because it’s cheap does not necessarily mean you should get it.

Even if you practice the proper health and safety precautions, it doesn't mean that the end user may do so as they could be unaware of the danger.




  • keepitsimplestupid 2016-10-18

    The throw-away cell phone market probably had a lot to do with the creating of ROHS.  For one thing, initially it was mostly a “consumer oriented” thing. Medical, aerospace and industrial stuff was exempt for a while.

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      Consumerism has created the problem in general. In my opinion only medical and military should have the right to use such substances.

  • adx 2016-10-27

    I disagree with the article. The dangers of lead were widely overstated at the time the law was brought in. It is not extremely toxic, it is not highly radioactive (as the picture suggests), it is not hazardous to handle a consumer product made with lead solder, it hardly leaches into the environment from landfills, it is widely used in much higher volumes in things like car batteries, and usually doesn’t cause health problems even when water pipes are made of it. Granted, non-ideal to munch on, but blowing dangers out of all proportion is the real danger. For example, I eat a fairly large server blade, I don’t get sick. I conclude they don’t have lead so they can be freely eaten. I slowly get lead poisoning, and need chelation therapy (which is a walk in the park compared to my diet).

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      See my other comments for counter arguments but here is something:

      Chelation therapy is not a walk in the park and can result in death

  • pmd34 2016-10-28

    I whole heatedly agree with adx. In the UK in some of the victorian houses they are still finding, and replacing the lead water pipes, and have you ever even HEARD of someone with lead poisoning? There was one case in Australia and the only other person they could compare them to was Bach! And the replacement? Bucket loads of flux, to make the stuff flow, (with much more nasty chemicals in,) and brittle solder that just is simply not up to the job! Theres a very good reason why the military, medics, and space industry is lucky enough to be RoHS exempt!

    As to disposable electronics and all.. the amount of lead used is actually very small, plus the majority of people are responsible enough to recycle their old electronics. The ones that are disposed of by “other means” usually ends up being burnt, and then lead is the very least of your worries! Dioxins, arsenic, selenium, gallium!

    Sure lets tighten up the uses on cadmium and Mercury (perhaps it IS time to admit mercury is not really the best material to be used in fillings in the mouth).. but letting a bunch of EU bureaucrats ban lead is one step too far! Here’s to the end of the EU and its straight bananas!

  • Hank1228 2016-10-28

    Just more govenment intervention into our daily lives.  I have been using lead based solder all my life, I’m now 71, and it has had no effect.  Of course you need to use common sense like not breathing lead based solder fumes, use gloves if possible and wash you hands thoroughly after use.  This is just another version of the global warming BS.

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      And I know a person who smokes and is in their 90s does that mean smoking is not harmful?

  • avayan 2016-10-28

    One thing that truly bugs me about this lead free matter is the fact that NOBODY has been able to explain to me how is it that having lead returning into the media is such a hassle for the human race. Are you telling me that before we started using lead it was all contained in bubbles where it was basically impossible for us to become in contact with it. Did we teleported all of our lead from a parallel dimension? Let’s face it! Lead became available in our planet (and ALL of our planet) long before “we” were primates. It has been here and will be here for a very long time. How is it that now it becomes dangerous for large bodies of water to grace it? I would love to understand the science behind this claim before blindly accepting that “oh yeah, it is so bad!”. BTW, I can see the claim that leaded fuel was a problem as atomizing lead so that it permeates our air seems like a tremendous way to cause some serious havoc. But the landfill logic eludes me. Looking forward to be enlightened!

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      In the past the same was said about many things including general health and safety. There are many people these days ill (who are in their 50’s and older) because of exposure to harmful substances such as lead, asbestos and mercury. These things in small quantities are harmless to a degree but their danger is long term exposure that builds up. For example, lead, once it enters the system, is near impossible to remove so using lead solder once or twice is OK but use it constantly and eventually you will get a build up in your system that can lead to cancer etc.

      There are individuals who believe that because they are 70 and used such stuff that it can’t be harmful, this is an incredibly ignorant thing to do with such a small sample size. I know people who have smoked and lived to 90! Just because some individuals are lucky enough not to have gotten ill does not mean that lead is safe. You also have to take into consideration the customer who is unaware of the risk. You may use lead solder and wash our hands after to prevent exposure but a customer may have no idea and be exposed to harmful substances over time.

      In terms of landfills you have to understand that landfills are just earth and soil underneath. They are not isolated blocks of concrete that get rubbish put in which means everytime it rains, chemicals and substances can be washed into the ground which pollutes that plot of land. But it does not stop there. As time progresses rainwater can wash these chemicals into underground water reserves and streams which either lead to the sea, rivers, other land or even a drinking water reservoir.

      There are other elements on this planet that have been here for a long time such as Uranium, Radon, Mercury, copper etc. You would not want to consume any of these (especially Radon). Such things are usually safe until we, people, get them out of the ground. Crude oil is another example, that stuff is very carcinogenic.

      You may agree with this article or not but the following facts are true:
      1) Human pollution has resulted in high levels of heavy metals in long lived fish
      2) Lead is poisonous and is being phased out for a reason
      3) Companies have been known to hide critical information about health and safety (American companies kept studies about asbestos secret)
      4) It cant do any harm replacing harmful substances with non-toxic varieties
      5) Heavy metals don’t disappear, they linger for a very…long….time

  • bgrahams 2016-10-28

    I too believe that LEAD is not as dangerous as made out to be.  I also believe that many things are put into place to make somebody some where extra money.  I also know that tin whiskers is a real problem.  Since going to lead free solder the connections are less reliable, tin whiskers have formed, space shuttle and station failures have been attributed to this.  I too do not agree with everything in this article.  Most of the ROHS, WEEE, CE directives are directed at keeping business in Europe not preserving the world.

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      Please provide evidence of solder connections being the cause of space shuttle and station failures. If we are talking about the space shuttle I can assure you the only two fatal accidents were caused by A) an damaged O-ring and B) a piece of insulation foam.

  • Windstang 2016-10-28

    I replaced my hot water tank/copper water pipes using lead-free solder. EVERY joint leaked. Yes I do know how to solder and every joint was sanded clean and properly fluxed. At first I wondered why the joints leaked until I looked at the solder roll and say it was lead free. So - I took the piping all apart and re-did it with ‘regular’ solder and all was good. The sales guy at the store said a ‘special’ technique was required using lead free solder. I only buy leaded solder now. I also wonder about the longevity of the joints with lead free - assuming you can get them to hold in the first place. My mother in law also once commented about the paint on the window sills not holding up as long as it used to since they took the lead out. She is 93 now so for some reason wasn’t poisoned by those windows painted with leaded paint. Yeah - don’t eat it - but to ruin products because a kid or 2 chews on window frames is over kill IMO.

    • Robin Mitchell 2016-10-28

      Refer to other comments.

      My dad has been up ladders quite a few times and has never fallen off, therefore ladders are safe. I have use crafting knives for 6 years now and have never cut myself so they must be safe. I have wired electrics in my house and I have never been shocked so therefore, electricity must be safe. NEVER EVER base your sample size on one person.

      Also, if your pipes leaked, you did not do it correctly. That’s why when you need plumbing work done, call a plumber.