are the Geeks, for they shall internet the earth
The 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
The restricted substances are:
4. Chromium VI (aka hexavalent chromium/ Cr6 )
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
• 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.