Participants at an ISMI meeting on emerging environment, safety and health (ESH) regulations said the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants is expected to vote on a ban of PFOS in May. The possible ban is part of an increasingly complex set of environmental regulations, with China taking an ever-dimmer view of potential contaminants.
The semiconductor industry faces a May 2009 decision by the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants regarding a possible outright ban of PFOS (perfluorooctane sulfonate), a photoresist photoacid generator that has become a bullseye material for environmentalists.
Speakers at an International Sematech Manufacturing Initiative (ISMI) meeting on emerging environmental, safety and health (ESH) regulations said the PFOS decision is part of an increasingly complex web of environmental regulations and carbon trading arrangements. China in particular has done an about-face, with the country’s latest Five Year Plan putting environmental cleanup on its high-priority list, with implications for power plants and semiconductor fabs there, said Ted Reichelt, principal environmental engineer at Intel Corp. (Santa Clara, Calif.).
The Stockholm Convention decision could stop short of an outright ban, and call for restrictions instead, said Laurie Beu, an ISMI ESH program manager. If the Stockholm Convention votes next May for a ban, it could put PFOS out of business a year later, in 2010. Countries participating in the convention could create domestic laws that would negate the decision, or otherwise create exceptions.
Beu said Japan links its banned substances list to the Stockholm decisions. “If PFOS is added to the Stockholm Convention, it could no longer be used in Japan,” she said.
PFOS is viewed by regulators as a PBT substance, meaning it is persistent, bioaccumulative and toxic. However, it is unclear how much of the PFOS found in humans and animals comes from its semiconductor-industry use.
If PFOS is banned outright next May, “it would have very negative effects, because we don’t have a substitute or alternative,” Beu said. “A ban would cause disruptions, changes in equipment usage.” Bans are normally applied to the manufacture of a substance, but the Stockholm Covention instead could impose critical usage restrictions that provide exemptions until a substitute is found.
Presenting information developed by Tim Yeakley, an ESH program manager at Texas Instruments (Dallas), Beu said Semiconductor Industry Association (SIA) members have agreed on a set of actions that would minimize the use of PFOS, including incineration of residues, elimination of non-lithography uses, and material control techniques.
The PFOS vote by the Stockholm Convention Countries is part of a much wider set of restrictions on chemicals facing the equipment and materials industry. Mary Majors, a safety program manager at Air Products and Chemicals Inc. (Allentown, Pa.), said the industry faces a long list of watched substances by the European Union’s Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals (REACH) program.
For the past year, suppliers have been engaging in the REACH pre-registration program. The REACH Annex 14 will eventually evolve into a list of substances subject to authorization. The danger is that the list could include “so many substances, so we have to figure out how to manage the process. The rules call for one registration for one substance,” Majors said.
The various industry associations, including ISMI, are become centers for how to deal with the environmental demands placed on suppliers, said James Beasley, manager of ISMI’s ESH program. ISMI is developing its Key Environmental Performance Indicators (KEPI) program. Many of the system companies, notably the large PC and consumer electronics manufacturers, are under pressure from environmental groups such as Greenpeace to improve their ESH programs. The spotlight on the system makers in turn creates pressure on the IC suppliers to attest to their own efforts to improve their manufacturing processes, Intel’s Reichelt said.
Steve Trammel, an ISMI manager of the KEPI program, said the program will help chip companies work with suppliers in the equipment and materials industries to identify relevant problems and create priorities. “The customers want to know, ‘Are you getting better?’”
Reichelt, who has worked on ESH issues at Intel for two decades, said not only regulations becoming stricter and more complex. “Our customers want us to go above and beyond the regulations.”
Although Europe has been at the forefront of the Reduce, Re-Use and Recycle (3Rs) movement, China is quickly catching up. After a series of environmental and safety disasters that have sullied China’s effort to climb the product quality ladder, Reichelt said the all-powerful Chinese bureaucrats are not taking “I’ll try,” for an answer. They expect results, or factories can be summarily shut down.
Worldwide, economic growth tends to be followed by periods of regulatory control, he said. China’s fast economic progress now is being followed by the 11th Five Year Plan, which calls for “becoming efficient, working smarter, and not wasting resources,” he said.
That could lead to China adopting Europe’s REACH program, which many in the semiconductor industry see as overly strict. “We are keeping our fingers crossed that REACH doesn’t jump across to China,” Reichelt said.
With a strong central government and a centrally planned economy, Chinese bureaucrats are tasked with carrying out the goals of the 11th Five Year Plan, including the environmental cleanup. “They don’t have to talk to people like us, though they do out of a sense of professionalism,” Reichelt said. “When they set down the rules, compliance is mandatory, and if that means shutting down a power plant or a factory, they will do so.”