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Will Electronics Escape Norway's Arsenic Purge?

A Norwegian plan to restrict the use of arsenic compounds in consumer products is due to come into force at the end of the year.

On December 15, Norway is planning to adopt legislation that will ban consumer products containing arsenic compounds in amounts over 0.01 percent by weight of the product s "homogenous component parts".

The Norwegian Pollution Control Authority lodged documentation on the proposed restrictions with the World Trade Organisation on June 8, commencing a review process including a public consultation period that closes on August 10. Norway s own consultation concludes on September 1.

“One of the aims of the consultation will be to determine what additional exemptions are necessary to make the regulation workable," commented Roland Sommer, managing director of RoHS International, a consultancy specializing in hazardous substance legislation.

RoHS International has already submitted comments into the review process on GaAs in semiconductor devices, and Sommer expects to see an exemption from the ban for these materials.

A draft of the legislation, entitled “Prohibition on certain hazardous substances in consumer products" and abbreviated to PoHS in most public discussion to date, is hosted on the consultancy s website.

Regardless of any exemption, relevant electronic manufacturing businesses will be able to continue unaffected, according to Asif Anwar of consultants Strategy Analytics.

“For a single PA die, we would estimate the GaAs content is no more than 3.5 milligrams," Anwar said. “So given a typical phone may weigh 80 grams, we are talking about 0.004 percent of the total weight."

Although multi-mode and multi-band handsets will have a higher percentage, Anwar doubts the 0.01 percent limit will be troubled, especially as die size shrinkage will counteract the effect of multiple die in a phone.

“This effect will be even less for large consumer electronic equipment such as PCs, CD and DVD players that use GaAs-based lasers, and for that matter products using LEDs."

However, not everybody is so certain. Michael Kirschner, the president of consulting firm Design Chain Associates, says that the legislation could have a "devastating" impact on GaAs-based devices.

This is because the 0.01 percent limit relates to the weight of arsenic in "homogenous component parts", and not the total weight of the product.

If the legislation is interpreted as Kirschner believes is possible, Norwegians look set to have problems sourcing many of the world s most popular consumer products. Anwar, for one, can find amusement in the implications of overzealous environmental legislation.

“It would be funny to turn on the news on January 1 2008 to watch the Norwegians throw out their mobile phones, computers, CD players and DVD players," said the analyst.

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