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Get the lead out

Is your video library system near the end of its life? Could it ever need replacement boards or parts? Do you have replacement devices on hand, or are you assuming the manufacturer will be able to supply them? What about those studio cameras? Are you expecting the manufacturer to have boards in a few years when you need them? Maybe install that upgrade they promised when you bought it?

I've got bad news, fella. These products and practically everything in your facility is about to become obsolete and perhaps unrepairable! Soon you may not be able to get the replacement boards, components, transistors, ICs, resistors, pots or switches — items that today are off-the-shelf. It's possible you could end up having to replace an entire system simply because you can't get a $10 part.

Want to know why? Because the European Union's (EU) environmental bureaucrats have decided that any company wanting to sell products in Europe must get the lead out of their equipment.

I recently visited with Will Wohler, president of Wohler Technologies, about this issue. It seems he's become the de facto broadcast industry spokesman about these ridiculous new EU regulations.

Here's what I've learned: The EU's new requirements are contained in two documents, commonly known as WEEE and RoHS, or the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment directive and Reduction of Hazardous Substances, respectively. Together they require recycling targets for electronic devices and the elimination of the use of such heavy metals as lead, mercury, cadmium, hexavalent chromium and two brominated flame retardants (i.e., PBB and PBDE) from all electronics sold in the EU beginning. Remember what's in solder-? Lead. All electronics sold into Europe after July 1, 2006, can't have any lead in them.

“So what?” you ask. “I'm based in the United States. Why should I care?”

Ask yourself why any manufacturer would continue to build (or support) a product that could only be sold in the United States but not Europe because it contains lead? And no manufacturer in his right mind is going to retool a factory to make replacement components for devices already nearing the end of their lives. This goes for cameras, production switchers, routers, you name it. I hate to tell you, buddy, but your supply chain is about to dry up.

It's true that if the manufacturer is U.S.-based, it isn't subject to Brussels' ridiculous rules. However, if that U.S. company wants to sell even one device in Europe, you guessed it: The device must be completely lead-free. Gotcha! You're screwed.

It would be worth a call to your key vendors to see what their support policies are going to be with regard to lead-based components. Remember, it's not just your vendor's policy that's important here. If the vendor can't get a certain IC or transistor because it's not available in a lead-free version, you're still screwed.

Of course, once everything electronic is made with lead-free solder, we'll be over this bump. It's just that it's an awfully big bump, and it's going to hit you where it hurts most.

Editor's note: More information is available at, where you can sign a petition asking to block the regulations.

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