A recent article in the Boston Herald discusses a proposed amendment to the EU regulation banning the use of lead in solders:
In Europe, regulations forbid the use of lead in solders. This has led manufacturers of electronic gear to switch from a lead-tin alloy to pure tin or a tin-silver-copper solder.
So? The “so” is that the new solders, especially under vibration or extreme temperature cycles, can grow “whiskers” of tin (under microphotography they look just like the whiskers of a man’s beard) that can short-circuit today’s miniaturized gear if they touch something maybe 1 millimeter away. Tin-lead solders rarely did that. On top of that, the new solders make joints that are much weaker than the old – raising the risk of a broken circuit. Other solders are possible using different alloys, but at higher and higher prices.
More than dead cell phones are at stake. A 2005 shutdown of a nuclear power plant in Waterford, Conn., was traced to a false alarm produced by a whisker of tin.
The European Union adopted the regulations in 2000 out of concern for dealing with lead when products are discarded. Nobody liked the extra costs of handling the lead that formed in incinerator slag, for instance. The EU is now considering possible amendments.
See the full article here: Getting the lead out not so simple.