A Sober Look at J-STD-709 Print E-mail
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Written by Mike Buetow   
Saturday, 28 February 2009 19:00
Caveat Lector

Speaking, as we were last month, about J-STD-709, the controversial draft standard that would impose stringent limits on halogen, bromine and chlorine use in certain electronics products, we receive letters from task group members who are leading the fight against the bad science behind the proposed spec.Doug Sober, who has spent more than 30 years in the electronics industry and is a member of the IPC Hall of Fame, writes, “I’d like to provide some additional history on this standard and other low-halogen documents.

“The first [standards organization] to incorporate a low-halogen requirement was the IEC. Even without pending legislation or Greenpeace forces, Technical Committee 91/Working Group 4 (TC91/WG4), of which I was the convener, decided that if companies wanted to buy and sell low-halogen base materials, there should be requirements in place to cover this commerce. The road from identifying this need for a low-halogen requirement to completing the first document was not smooth. There were, however, a number of considerations that were clearly different than those at work on J-STD-709.

“The requirement, which was ultimately a compromise between the Japanese and US delegations – 900 ppm maximum bromine, 900 ppm maximum chlorine and 1500 ppm maximum bromine plus chlorine – was based on data. Where no data existed, tests were conducted. In the end, the groups agreed based on the science from the available data. In the case of J-STD-709, many of the requirements for other building blocks of an electronic device are just based on an extension of the base material standard. Or a number seemingly pulled from the air. From the very beginning, IPC management indicated that data would not be a prerequisite for the halogen requirement.

“Although the test method proposed by the Japanese expert was far from perfect, the consensus was that it was accurate and repeatable at the level of detection needed. In the case of J-STD-709, there appears to be as much argument about the test method as about the requirements. One necessarily follows the other.

“In a perfect world, we easily could test between flame-retardant-based halogens and inorganic halogens. This, however, is not reality. Since it was not easy to quantify the bromine and chlorine contributed by flame-retardants only, TC91/WG4 made the requirement based on the total bromine and chlorine.

“Because the requirements of the TC91/WG4 were based on data and there was a suitable compromise, suppliers were not cut out of the marketplace due to the emerging standard. It was acceptable to have the lowest common denominator govern the entire group. If a customer wanted a more restrictive requirement, it was to be worked out with the supplier.

“TC91/WG4 was an international delegation that knew how to get consensus. Rather than build consensus on J-STD-709, this document has generated just the opposite effect. As time has passed, the working group deliberately has become more limited and secretive. Experts at building consensus were asked by IPC management to remove themselves from the group. As a result, the document appears to have been written for a select group of companies by a select group of companies.

“There is a face-saving way out of this mess. The document as currently written suffers from a lack of science and ultimately a lack of consensus. Let’s ignore that there is no real environmental, safety or health concern at work here – nor was there any for TC91/WG4. The need remains to manage the commercial process. The science and the consensus can be generated over time to develop a meaningful standard.”

Sober goes on to recommend that the task group take the time to generate scientific and meaningful test methods where needed, and in cases where no test method is available, to use AABUS (as agreed upon between user and supplier) for the test method and the requirement. He says J-STD-709 would best be published as a guideline until such time science and consensus catch up to the commercial desire to limit halogens. He further advises the task group demand consensus for each component, versus narrowing what could be a game-changing specification to the opinions of a few people.

Sober, who has spent the better part of two decades representing IPC and the US in the contentious international standards arena, has the benefit of vast experience and unquestionable technical chops. His is the voice of reason. He should be listened to.

Thank you. A word of thanks to our readers who visited the second annual Virtual PCB, our online conference and exhibition. While the live event is over, the show is accessible on-demand at vshow.on24.com/clients/vshow/upmedia/regty.htm for the next two months. Exhibitors are free to update their booths to include new products as they come to market, so there’s good reason to check back from time to time.

 

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