Sustainability conquers the USA: New American “halogen-free” projects

In the USA, the word "sustainability" may still evoke fuzzy stereotypes of do-gooders putting ideals ahead of reality. However, the growing influence of watchdog groups making clever use of the internet, new environmental regulations with additional, stringent restrictions coming from Europe and spreading over to Asia, create a new perception of sustainability, health and the environment in American companies, associations, authorities, and last but not least, the public opinion. This also concerns the use of flame retardants.

The development of "halogen-free" systems for office and consumer electronics started in Europe and has now reached the USA: Projects from electronics manufacturers and suppliers, as well as from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) focus on printed wiring boards (PWBs).   

The International Electronics Manufacturing Initiative iNEMI, an industry-led consortium of approximately 70 electronics manufacturers, suppliers and related organizations, started a Halogen-Free Project last year. The objective is to promote standards development by establishing materials, manufacturing, assembly, and test guidelines for "halogen-free" PWBs based on market segment requirements and technical, commercial, and functional viability. The project results are expected in 2008.

The High Density Packaging User Group International HDPUG is an American non profit trade organization involved in the supply chain of products using high density electronic packages. HDPUG has just started (January 2007) a new Halogen-Free Properties Project: 

- A comprehensive "halogen-free" guideline for PWBs and general information about packages, cables and casings will be developed.

- A "halogen-free" PWB Product database allowing suppliers to display their halogen-free PWB product offerings in a uniform concise format will be assembled.

The Design for the Environment (DfE) Program of the EPA works in partnership with a broad range of stakeholders to reduce the risk to people and the environment by preventing pollution. Under the title "Safer Flame Retardants", one DfE project Printed Circuit Board Flame Retardancy Partnership was started in order to improve our knowledge of the environmental, health and safety aspects of commercially available flame retardants that can be used to meet fire safety requirements for the majority of printed circuit boards. Tetrabromobisphenol A (TBBPA) is the largest-volume brominated flame retardant with an annual production of approximately 150 000 tonnes, and is the primary flame retardant for printed circuit boards. Alternative flame retardant materials are becoming available for use in PWBs.