Blessed are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth

The Tin Men of Africa
Joseph Ritchey

Tin Men of Africa

"The road to Hell is paved with good intentions."
-- Samuel Johnson

The Restriction of Hazardous Substances Directive (RoHS or the lead free directive). In February of 2003 the
European Union adopted this directive which is to take effect on July 1, 2006. The directive restricts the use
of six hazardous materials in manufacture of various types of electronics and electrical equipment.

The restricted substances are:
1. Lead
2. Mercury
3. Cadmium
4. Chromium VI (aka hexavalent chromium/ Cr6 )
5. PBB

The types of equipment that the RoHS applies to, is defined in the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE). It does not apply to fixed industrial plant and tools. Compliance is the responsibility of the company which puts the product on the market.

   California has adopted similar legislation which will take effect on January 1, 2007. The California law will use the EU RoHS directive as its guide. These, as well as other legislation, effectively makes RoHS a world  wide compliance issue. Why is this such a hot button issue, well Worldwide, over 176 million pounds of tin-lead solder are used

The EPA is currently studying the following "lead-free" alternatives:
95.5% tin, 3.9% silver, and 0.6% copper;
57.0% bismuth, 42.0% tin, and 1.0% silver;
96.0% tin, 2.5% silver, 1.0% bismuth, and 0.5% copper; and
99.2% tin and 0.8% copper.

    A major ingredient in all of these "lead-free" solders is tin. This and other demands in consumer electronics  (like plasma and LCD screen, which tin is also used a major component) has dramatically increased the worldwide demand for tin. Nearly doubling the price of tin since 2002. Cassiterite is the chief ore of tin and is currently the most traded metal on the London Exchange. Officially Boliva is the major source of Cassiterite. Unofficially the Democratic Republic of Congo accounts for 10 to 15 percent of the world cassiterite supply. Smuggled out of the country through its neighbors like Rwanda, the Conganese people rarely get the opportunity to benefit from their country's vast natural resources. Rwanda claim the smuggle cassiterite as their own but Rwanda exports nearly 5 times the amount of cassiterite as it produces.

   The mining sector in the DRC is completely unregulated and disorganized, with no monitoring of the mines or conditions there. Young men and boys work in the open-pit mines with no equipment, often no basic tools and with no protection from falling rocks and mud slides. The conditions are appalling and accidents are frequent. The majority of the mining sites in eastern DRC are inaccessible by road. Thousands of men in the Kivus earn a meager living from carrying 50kg sacks of cassiterite by foot on often long journeys to the nearest town or airstrip. In some areas, for example Bisie mine near Walikale, this walk takes several days and dangers such as military roadblocks are frequent along the way. If they are lucky the porters will make 5$ a day. On the open market the 50kg sacks of cassiterite ore can fetch up to $400 a sack. Since 2003 Walkale has become one of the busiest airports in the DRC. With nearly 15 planes a day leaving Walikale airport, carrying almost $2 million of ore pillaged from the Congo a week.

    This is nothing new for the DRC. The Congo has one of the world's rich deposits of minerals. These resources have been a curse for the Congo. For decades the DRC has been a wash with gangs of gun touting pillagers. Who have looted the Congonese mines and brutalized the their people. Back to back wars with it Uganda and Rwanda over the decades drew in armies from six of the Congo's neighbor nations and has resulted in the death of nearly 4 million people.

   And the electronics companies are blissfully ignorant of the source of the tin they buy. But to their credit most of the tin smuggled out of the Congo are laundered through the international metal markets and mixed into legitimate markets in Malaysia, Belgium, South Africa or Britain. What is shocking is that most consumers have no idea what human cost goes into our simplest electronics.

The types of equipment the RoHS directive applies to as defined by WEEE:
Large and small household appliances
IT equipment
Telecommunications equipment (although infrastructure equipment is exempt in some countries)
Consumer equipment
Lighting equipment, including light bulbs
Electronic and electrical tools
Toys, leisure and sports equipment
Automatic dispensers.

Sir Isaac Newton once said, "If I have been able to see farther than others, it is because I stood on the
shoulders of giants."

Now I stand on the shoulders of the weak to watch "Doom" on HD-DVD.


Hacking The IT Cube: The Information Technology Survival Guide -- Douglas Chick

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