Environmental Aspects

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Increasing research data and awareness about the problems surrounding environmentally sensitive and health effecting substances in industrial goods have led to and continue to impact discussions about restrictions of certain substances. Regarding the subject of electrical contacts the following chapter provides a review of current government regulations and voluntary restrictions implemented by the industry as of the beginning of 2010 for mainly the European Union, but also some data and resources for North America and Asia (mainly China).The data shown and information given concern the manufacturing and use of electrical contacts and related materials and technologies. They are meant as general guidance to the engineering community in the field of electrical contacts and meant to provide a starting point and listing of resources during the design process that requires the selection of electrical contact materials and components. In this chapter we show also references directly in the text to aid the reader in looking up more detailed resources regarding specific subjects of this rather complex and constantly changing issue. Because of the ongoing changes on this subject it is important to note that the following data are only for general orientation, do not claim to be in anyway complete, and do not claim to be legally correct.

Use Restrictions in the European Union (EU)

Legal Regulations and Restrictions

Since 1968 restrictions for the use and application of substances determined to be hazardous to the human health have been regulated uniformly throughout the countries of the European Union [1]. In Germany these are included in the "Law on Chemical Substances" and the "Hazardous Materials Regulation" [2] [3]. Because of ongoing changes and to obtain details on the included substances, their maximum allowable contents, and certain exemptions, it is highly recommended to look up the most current status of EU legislation and related discussion points at www.eur-lex.europa.eu/.

In addition to substance related regulatory restrictions, the EU issues also directives for use restrictions or bans for certain application ranges. Regarding electrical contacts the “End of Live (for) Vehicles (ELV)[4] and the electrical devices regulation "Restrictions on the Use of Hazardous Substances in Electrical and Electronic Equipment" (RoHS)[5], [6] have to be mentioned. The EU regulation on electrical and electronic scrap (WEEE [7]) does not contain limitations on hazardous materials and is not discussed in detail here. RoHS and WEEE are covered in Germany by the „ElectroG“ law [8] .

  • EU end of life vehicle regulation (ELV)[4]
Range of validity: Passenger cars and trucks up to 3.7 t GWV and spare parts for these
Limitations for impurities:
Pb, Hg, Cd, Cr VI, PBB, PBDE
Cd: 100 ppm; others: 1000 ppm
Current exemptions: Pb in Cu materials, Steel, Al up to defined limit values Pb in solders for
electronic components: exemption valid through

2010; Pb in press fit areas

Range of validity: Electrical and electronic devices for consumer market (Details see Exh. 1)
Limitations for impurities:
Pb, Hg, Cd, Cr VI, PBB, PBDE
Cd: 100 ppm; others: 1000 ppm
Current exemptions: Pb in Cu materials, Steel, AI up to defined limit values Pb in high melting solders with

Pb contents of 80-85 wt% ́Cd in electrical contacts

Additional regulations for the manufacturing and further use of contact materials have to be observed. These regard the areas of work place effects and emissions in exhaust air, waste water, and through scrap disposal. For the first one please see the German MAK and BAT Value List [9] . For the other areas mentioned the TA Air [10] is of importance. Since 2007 the EU has worked on and issued a new version of the chemical substance law through the REACH regulation (Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals)[11] ,[12] .

So far REACH has no implications on electrical contacts but it probably will in the foreseeable future. This will be mainly dependent on which substances may be added to the SVHC (Substances of Very High Concern) list.

Use Restrictions Based on Agreements

Contractual agreements between manufacturers and users, often on the basis of product specifications, can further ban or limit the use, or make it subject to declarations of hazardous materials also in electrical contacts. A leading role in these efforts has been played by the automotive industry which is shown in the declaration and restriction list of the german association of automotive manufacturers (VDA 232-101), [13] which then expanded into the „Global Automotive Declarable Substance List“ (GADSL) [14] listing. In addition there exist companywide environmental regulations by larger manufacturing groups i.e. [15] , [16] , [17] .

Industrial Self-Regulation

Sulfur-Hexafluoride (SF6) is a isolating and switching gas widely used in medium and high voltage switchgear. Since it is a grean house gas which contributes to global warming its release to the atmosphere must be strictly controlled as stated in the Kyoto Protocol. German industry associations and companies involved in the use of SF6 have voluntarily committed themselves to strict enforcement and reporting to the government of its use and release [18] .

Use Restrictions Outside of the EU

  • Switzerland

Switzerland has adopted to a large degree the EU regulations ELV and RoHS through laws like the “Chemicals Risk and Reduction Regulation” (ChemRRV) and “Chemicals Regulation” (ChemV) [19] .

  • Peoples Republic of China

The main three laws [20] , [21] governing the use and reporting requirements for chemical substances, known as China – RoHS, are concentrating so far only on the reporting and labeling requirements of substances as published in the EIP product listing if they do contain Pb, Hg, Cd, CrVI, PBB or PBDE. Compulsory requirements for certification are included, however the analytical methods to determine the amounts have to follow existing Chinese standards. Actual use restrictions and bans of certain substances are still in the discussion and planning stage of a Phase 2 regulation.

  • South Korea

The laws of South-Korea, referred to as “Korea-RoHS”, basically contains the EU regulations set forth in ELV, RoHS, and the WEEE regulations.

  • Other countries

In Japan the collection and treatment of electrical scrap and waste materials are regulated by laws. The use restrictions for hazardous materials are however governed by the related industries themselves [22] . The restrictions for lead in electrical and electronic products is substantially advanced. For electrical contacts many users currently require and specify content limits, such as for example on Cadmium, well below the EU limitations. In the USA there is so far only a federal initiative to basically follow the EU RoHS regulations which is known in California as the “CA-RoHS” regulation [23] . Existing regulatory requirements cover however, mostly on a state basis, EPA (environmental impacts) and OSHA (workplace safety and health) content limits for hazardous substances in water and air.

Hazardous Substances in Electrical Contacts

The hazardous substances in electrical contacts are listed in Table 1

Table 1: Hazardous Substances in Electrical Contacts and their Immediate Environment
Use areas Substances Materials and application Guide for replacement materials
MContact materials Cadmium (Cd)

Nickel (Ni)
Mercury (Hg)

Silver/cadmium oxide
Gold-cadmium alloys

Fine-grain silver
Hg in tilt switches
Silver/tin oxide
Silver/zinc oxide
Hard gold (AuCo)
Silver/tin oxide,
Silver alloys
Alternative switch designs
Brazing alloys and solders Cadmium (Cd)
Lead (Pb)
Additive in silver bazing alloys
Tin-lead solders
Cd-free brazing alloys i.e. AgZnCuSn,
Pb-free solders i.e. SnCu, SnAg, SnAgCu
Carrier materials Lead (Pb)
Beryllium (Be)
Additive in Cu alloys
Steel and Al alloys
Use of non-machined contact carriers,
Precipitation hardening materials without Be
Plastics PBB and PBDE Antimony oxide (Sb2O3) Flame retardant Alternate flame retardants
Switching media Sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) Isolation and switching gas

Table 2 and Table 3 list the background information about environmental and health related hazardous properties of the above substances as well as their current situation regarding bans, restrictions, and reporting requirements.

Table 2: Environmental and Health Effecting Properties of Substances in Electrical Contacts
Substance Effect Ref.
Cadmium and Cd-compounds *Bone softening
*Kidney damage
*Accumulated in organs
*Cancer promoting (prostate, liver, lung)
*Damage to embryo
*Disturbing growth
Mercury *High toxicity
*Damages nervous system and brain
Nickel and Nickel-compounds *Allergen
*As fine inhaled dust: causes lung cancer
Lead *Toxic
*Damage to embryo
*possibly cancer causing
Beryllium *Toxic
*as fine inhaled dust: Berylliosis
PBB, PBDE *Toxic, during burning releases dioxins and furans [9]
SF6 *Contributes to global warming (green-house gas):
*1 kg SF6 is equivalent to 23 tons of CO2

Table 3: Use Limitations of Hazardous Materials in Electrical Contacts
Document Hg Cd Ni Be Pb Sb2O2 SF6
ELV v v v, in solders until 2010: a in Cu, Fe, Al: a;
in press-fit areas: a; in high-melting brazing alloys: a
VDA 232-101 v v d d d
GADSL v v d d d d
RoHS v v, in contact materials: a v, in Cu, Fe, Al: a;
in highmelting brazing alloys: a
Kyoto-Protocol f

v = banned,
a = exemptions exist,
d = must be declared,
f = minimize release

For all applications in contact materials, their joining technologies, and for carrier materials, environmentally friendly material alternatives, usually used in conjunction with device design changes, are available [28] ,[29] , [30] .

Abbreviations and their Meaning

Covering the subject of environmental aspects for electrical contacts a multitude of abbreviations is commonly used. The following Table 4 shows the description and meaning for the most relevant ones:

Table 4: Abbreviations and their Meaning
Abbreviation Stands for: Explanation
ABI Official EU Form English for ABI: Official Journal of the EU
ATSDR Agency for Toxic
Substances and Disease
Agency of the US Dept. of Health and Human Services (DHHS), USA http.//www.atstr.cdc.gov
ANSI American National
Standards Institute
Be Beryllium Chemical element, toxic
CAS-Nr. Chemical Abstracts
Service Registry Number
Unified numbering system for identifying chemical substances, created by the American Chemical Society (ACS) http://portal.acs.org
Cd Cadmium Chemical element, toxic and carcinogen
ChemRRV Chemical Risk Reduction
Swiss law: Regulation about the limitations and bans of risk bearing substances
ChemV Regulations for Chemicals Swiss law: Regulation about the protection against hazardous materials and products
ChemVerbotsV Ban of Chemicals regulation German law which incorporates the relevant EU regulations
CrVl Chromium VI (= in hexavalent form) The chemical element Chromium can have different valences, compounds with hexavalent Cr are toxic
ECHA European Chemicals Agency Agency of the EU in Finland which in the framework of REACH pre-registers and registers chemical substances
EINECS European inventory of existing commercial chem. substances Chemical substances (waste materials list)
EIP Electronic Information Products List of electrical and electronic devices subject to China-RoHS
ElectroG Law on Electrical and Electronic Devices German implementation of EU regulations RoHS and WEEE [8]
ELV End of Life Vehicles Verbatim: Automotive waste; is used to describe the EU obsolete vehicle regulation [4]
EPA Environmental Protection Agency US agency for environmental protection, www.epa.gov
ESIS European Substance Information System EU data bank of chemical substances, http://ecb.jrc.ec.europa.eu/esis
EU European Union
EU RAR European Union Risk Assessment Report EU-report on state of knowledge about the effects and risk potential of hazardous substances
GADSL Global Automotive Declarable Substance List Global list of substances (published by GASG) which are banned or must be declared for automotive applications
GASG Global Automotive Stakeholder Group Global association of automotive manufacturers, www.gadsl.org
GefStoffV HazardousMat.Regulation German administrative orders which transform EU regulations into law
Hg Mercury Toxic chemical element
HSE Health and Safety Executive Government department in Great Britain, www.hse.gov.uk
IMDS International Materials Data System Internet-based system of the VDA to record all materials and hazardous substances used in automotive manufacturing, www.imds.de
MAK Value Maximum Workplace Concentration German list of the maximum allowable concentrations of health hazardous substances at the workplace [9]
MllT (earlier:MII) Ministry of Industry and Informations Technology Ministry for industry and information technology of the Peoples Republic of China, www.miit.gov.cn
Ni Nickel Chemical element, can act as allergen
Pd Lead Chemical element, toxic and suspected carcinogen
PBB Polybromated Biphenyls Flame retardant, used as additive in plastics
PBDE Polybromated Diphenylethers Flame retardant, used as additive in plastics
RoHS Restriction of the use of Hazardous Substances in Electronic and Electrical Equipment Regulation by the EU to restrict the use of hazardous materials Hg, Pb, Cd, Cr VI, PBB, and PBDE in electrical and electronic products [5]
SAC Standardization Administration of China Government organization of the PR China issuing standards, incl. those for analytical methods
SF6 Sulfur hexafluoride Gas contributing to Green House Effect
SVHC substances of very high concern List of strongly hazardous substances, Exhibit XV of REACH regulation
TA Luft Technical Procedure for Clean Air Administrative order in Germany, issued by the Ministry for the Environment [10]
VDA German Ass. of the Auto. Industry – VDA e.V. Association of automotive manufacturers operating in Germany, www.vda.de
WEEE Waste electrical and electronic equipment Directive of the EU for collecting and recycling electrical and electronic waste products [7]
ZVEI German Association of the Electrical and Electr. Industry – ZVEI e.V. German association of the electrical industry, operating committee on environmental policy (A-PU) www.zvei.org


  1. Richtlinie 67/548/EWG des Rates vom 27. Juni 1967, Amtsblatt 196 vom 16.8.1967, S. 1 und alle zugehörigen Ergänzungen
  2. Chemikalienverbotsverordnung, in: Kahl-Mentschel, Schlüter, Vater: Gefahrstoffrecht, Loseblattsammlung, Bundesanzeiger Verlag, Köln, fortlaufend
  3. Packroff, R.; Kahl-Mentschel, A.; Henn, M.: Die neue Gefahrstoff- verordnung Textausgabe zur Neufassung 2005, Bundesanzeiger Verlag, Köln, 2005
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 Altautoverordnung der EU ("ELV"): Richtlinie des Europäischen Parlaments und des Rates 2000/53/EG (vom 18.9.2000) in Verbindung mit folgenden Ergänzungen und Änderungen: 2002/525/EG (vom 29.06.2002) 2003/138/EG (vom 27.02.2003) 2005/53/EG (vom 01.04.2005) 2005/438/EG (vom 10.06.2005) 2005/673/EG (vom 20.09.2005) 2008/33/EG (vom 11.03.2008) 2008/689/EG (vom 01.08.2008)
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 Richtlinie 2011/65/EU zur Beschränkung der Verwendung bestimmter gefährlicher Stoffe in Elektro- und Elektronik- geräten vom 8.6.2011. Diese Neufassung der RoHS (RoHS II) ersetzt die Ursprungsfassung Richtlinie 2002/95/EG vom 27.1.2003 einschließlich aller Änderungen hierzu im Zeitraum von 2003 bis 2010.
  6. ORGALIME RoHS GUIDE, Brüssel, 2011, www.orgalime.org
  7. 7.0 7.1 Richtlinie 2002/96/EG des Europäischen Parlaments und des Rates vom 27.1.2003 über Elektro- und Elektronik-Altgeräte ("WEEE"), ABl. L37 (13.2.2003), S. 24-38
  8. 8.0 8.1 Elektro- und Elektronikgerätegesetz, ElektroG, Bundesgesetzblatt Teil 1, Nr.17, 23.5.2005
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 9.3 9.4 Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft: MAK- und BAT-Werte-Liste 2008, Senatskommission zur Prüfung gesundheitsschädlicher Arbeitsstoffe, Mitteilung 44, WILEY-VCH Verlag, Weinheim, 2008
  10. 10.0 10.1 Bundesministerium für Umwelt, Naturschutz und Reaktorsicherheit: TA Luft: Erste Allgemeine Verwaltungsvorschrift zum Bundes-Immissions- schutzgesetz, 24.7.2002
  11. Verordnung des Europäischen Parlaments und des Rates 2006/1907/EG (REACH)
  12. Weiß, R., Sander, M.: REACH in der Praxis, Das neue EU Chemikaliengesetz, Bundesanzeiger Verlagsgesellschaft, Köln, 2007
  13. Verband der Automobilindustrie e.V. (VDA): VDA-Liste für deklarationspflichtige Stoffe (VDA 232-101), Frankfurt, Jan. 2000
  14. GASG: Global Automotive Declarable Substance List (gadsl), www.gadsl.org
  15. Robert Bosch GmbH, Stuttgart: Bosch Norm N2580-1: Verbot und Deklaration von Inhaltsstoffen
  16. Siemens AG, München: SN 36 350, Teile 1 und 2: "Deklarations- und Vermeidungsliste gefährlicher Stoffe" und "Verbotsliste gefährlicher Stoffe"
  17. Hella KG, Lippstadt: Hella Norm N20100-2: Umweltnorm - Anwendungsbeschränkungen umweltgefährdender Stoffe
  18. Gal, K.; Reimüller, A.: Die neue SF6-Selbstverpflichtung und ihre Umsetzung in der Praxis, etz Heft 9(2005) 30-37
  19. Bundesamt für Umwelt (BAFU), Schweiz: http://bafu.admin.ch
  20. Schulz, W.: China macht Ernst mit Umweltgesetzen für Elekronikgeräte, VDI-Nachrichten Nr.49, 2006 (8.12.2006)
  21. MIIT, VR China: SJ/T 11365-2006: Testing Methods for Hazardous Substances …SJ/T 11363-2006: Requirements for Concentration Limits SJ/T 11264-2006: Marking for Control of Pollution... inoffizielle Übersetzung ins Englische unter: www.aeanet.org/GovernmentAffairs/
  22. Kiyoshi, Ueno: The status of Japan's Electric Appliance Recycling Law, 7.3.2006, www.env.go.jp/recycle/3r/en/s -officials/0802/04.pdf
  23. http://dtsc.ca.gov/HazardousWaste/RoHS
  24. EU JRC: Summary of RAR Cadmium Metal and Cadmium Oxide, 2008 EUR 23424 EN
  25. ATSDR: Toxological Profile for Mercury, 1999
  26. Zorn, H.: „Medizinische Gesichtspunkte und Arbeitshygiene für den Umgang mit berylliumhaltigen Werkstoffen“, Vortragsmappe der TAE, Esslingen, 1973
  27. http://www.accc.gv.at/klba.htm
  28. Vinaricky, E. (Hrsg.): Elektrische Kontakte, Werkstoffe und Anwendungen, 2.Aufl., Springer-Verlag, Berlin, Heidelberg, 2002
  29. Behrens, V.; .Honig, Th.; Kraus, A.: Ersatzwerkstoffe für Silber/Cadmiumoxid - ein Statusbericht im Hinblick auf kommende gesetzliche Restriktionen, VDE-Fachbericht 57 (2001) 147-151
  30. Buresch, I: "Neuentwicklungen bei Kupferlegierungen für Steckverbinder- wohin geht der Trend?" VDE-Fachbericht 59 (2003) 101-105

31 Verordnung (EU) Nr. 494/2011 der Kommission vom 20.5.2011 Berichtigung zur Verordnung 494/2011, erfolgt am 24.5.2011, Amtsblatt der EU L 136/105 32 South-Korea: Act for Resource Recycling of Electrical and Electronic Equipment and Vehicles, 2007, unofficial translation: www.ecofrontier.com 33 Kiyoshi, Ueno: The status of Japan's Electric Appliance Recycling Law, 7.3.2006, www.env.go.jp/recycle/3r/en/s -officials/0802/04.pdf