Small splinters that randomly occur in tin solder, which laces the insides of gadgets, usually result in circuits shorting out. NASA missions, pacemakers and energy plants have all failed at some point due to the phenomenon. Conservative estimates of the cost of such splinters, or whiskers as they are named, have totaled nearly $10 billion since 1940.
Preventing whiskers is a major concern to the electronics industry. The most prominent defense measure known is to use lead during the production process. Companies, excluding rogue Chinese toy manufacturers, are all being forced to slowly eliminate the use of lead in their products.
Tin whiskers occur randomly, but as devices become smaller the potential damage they may cause increases. The addition of lead to the tin used in soldering reduces the occurrence of whiskers dramatically. The EU has led the way in calling an end to the use of lead in electronics. Japan, China, South Korea, Argentina, Australia and the USA are all set to follow with similar laws being put in place.
There are two sides to the argument: Lead is toxic; it can cause serious health issues if it leaks out. It makes sense to prevent the potential hazard. However, leaks that cause serious health ramifications are rare if proper disposal measures are put in place. The advantages of including it as a preventive measure are unquestionable.
Technology of pivotal importance, e.g. medical and military devices, will inevitably remain with the toxic metal in place. The only real losers will be the consumers of all things gadgets, unless of course, a solution is found quickly. As yet, no realistic alternative exists. [Yahoo News]