As environmental concerns escalate, magnified to some degree by the Covid-19 pandemic, plastic has become an important source of anxiety for all of us. Reports that surgical masks cannot be recycled and that food packaged in plastic is making a big comeback, as people worry about contamination, have caused disquiet not only among environmental activists but also among consumers themselves.
We all know that plastic is difficult to recycle, takes literally ages to decompose when buried underground, pollutes our oceans and emits a variety of noxious greenhouse gases when incinerated. One of the problems is that plastic is everywhere.
Polymers are found in electrotechnical products you would not even think of and these polymers are made of toxic substances. Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) are one of these toxic substances.
They are found in polymers used in the raw materials when manufacturing electronical and electrical devices. An example is carbon black, a substance which may be used to coat electric wires, for instance.
IEC Technical Committee 111 prepares horizontal environmental standards in the IEC. It has just published a standard, IEC 62321-10, which provides manufacturers with test methods that will allow the electrotechnical industry to determine the levels of PAHs in their products. This will enable them to meet expected European regulation requirements (REACH SVHC) which limit the PAH content in the polymers to 1 mg/kg.
The test method is gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS). Gas chromatography works on the principle that a mixture will separate into individual substances when heated.
The heated gases are carried through a column with an inert gas (such as helium). Mass spectrometry identifies compounds by the mass of the analyte molecule.
A library of known mass spectra, covering several thousand compounds, is stored on a computer. Mass spectrometry is considered the only definitive analytical detector.
IEC 62321-10 is part of a whole series of horizontal standards which deals with toxic substance testing across all electrical and electronic devices and systems. For instance, IEC 62321-7-1 describes a boiling water extraction procedure intended to provide a qualitative determination of the presence of hexavalent chromium in colourless and coloured corrosion-protection coatings on metallic samples.
“Having an harmonized measurement method to declare the content of substances is important for the industry. It allows manufacturers to better understand and compare the declarations of their suppliers and ensure a better knowledge of hazardous substances in the final manufactured product,” says TC111 Chair Christophe Garnier.
Read more about these and other IEC TC 111 Standards on https://tc111.iec.ch/