Proposed IEC Standard on Halogen-Free Raises Concerns

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Like the game Whack-a-Mole, the idea of a standard for low-halogen electronics keeps popping up. Originally, proposed as an IPC specification of chlorine and bromine in copper-clad laminates, IEC 61249-2-21 was established many years ago to define FR-4 products for halogen-free.

Then about a decade ago, concerns about certain toxic bromine-containing flame-retardants (polybrominated biphenyls (PBBs) and polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and concerns regarding incomplete combustion of PVC and bromine-containing plastics in electronics led to the passage of the EU WEEE Regulation and RoHS Directive which banned the toxic substances and mandated appropriate handling of waste electronics.

Despite the removal of any toxic halogen-containing compounds from the electronics supply chain, IPC and JEDEC members began discussions about the development of a standard for low halogen electronics. IPC, with its broad membership and open voting processes, never approved the low halogen standard, which was deemed to be a marketing tool posing as an environmental standard. JEDEC, with its narrower membership, went ahead and passed and published "Definition of 'Low Halogen' for Electronic Products” in 2015.

In 2016, the JEDEC standard was temporarily (up to six years) approved by IEC TC 111 (environmental standardization committee) as an IEC publicly available specification (PAS), despite the broad questions that were raised regarding technical validity. Revision and permanent adoption of the standard is now being considered by TC 111. The proposed revision would define electronics as “Low Halogen” when they “contain less than 0,9% (by mass) total elemental halogen content (F+Cl+Br+I) and meet the thresholds of all halogenated substances in IEC 91 62474 database." The proposed standard is concerning not just because of the content of the proposal, but by the labeling of low halogen as an environmental standard.

The standard is in the Committee Draft Phase which means it is being circulated for comments to all IEC TC111 member countries. The deadline for comment is September 15, 2017. If you are concerned, contact your country’s IEC National Committee and the IEC TC111 representatives.


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