“Our enforcement project shows that it is common for cheap home electronics to contain prohibited chemicals. The individual products do not pose a great risk but they entail problems for both health and the environment in the long run,” says Mariana Pilenvik, inspector at the Swedish Chemicals Agency.
154 electrical and electronic low-price products were examined by the Swedish Chemicals Agency during 2016, with a total of 84 companies inspected by the project. Some of the articles analyzed by the agency included USB contacts, headphones and bike lights. The results of this analysis showed that 58 of the products examined (38%) contained levels of prohibited chemical substances which were too high.
The project found a high level of lead in the soldering inside of many products, a toxic substance which can damage the nervous system, affecting the ability to learn. As the lead in the soldering can not be accessed during normal use of products, the greatest impact is during manufacturing, in particular the waste stage or of lead is exposed to the environment.
The Swedish Chemicals Agency found short chain chlorinated paraffins in the soft plastic of some cords. This is a substance suspected to cause cancer and is also hazardous to the environment. Plasticising phthalates were also contained in several plastic parts of the products examined. Phthalates are not all harmful, however many can have an affect on the testicles and can make it difficult to have children. Phthalates are currently not allowed in electronic and electrical products, but some of these are mentioned in the EU’s candidate list of substances of very high concern, meaning those who distribute articles containing phthalates in levels above 0.1% (by weight) are liable to inform about this.
The inspections are in the form of randomized checks and thus the results do not accurately the entire market of electrical low-price products. Products containing too high levels of prohibited substances were taken off the market; 30 of the inspected companies have been reported to prosecutors as they were suspected of environmental offence.
“The companies are responsible for ensuring that the products do not contain prohibited chemical substances. By imposing clear chemical requirements on their suppliers and ensuring adherence to legislation, the companies also contribute to a non-toxic daily life and non-toxic environment,” says Mariana Pilenvik.
Rules related to substances contained in electronic and electrical products are covered in different EU regulations and directives. The Swedish Chemicals Agency has examined, in the enforcement project, if the products have substances prohibited in accordance to the POP’s Regulation, RoHS Directive or which are included by the duty to communicate information pursuant to the REACH Regulation. Products may not be placed on the EU market if they contain too high levels of a restricted substance. Manufacturers and importers have been reported by The Swedish Chemicals Agency for suspicion of crime as when their products have been found to contain substances restricted by the RoHS Directive. Manufacturers, importers and distributors are reported to the environmental prosecutor when their products contain substances restricted in the POPs Regulation, or which are regulated in the REACH Regulation.
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