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Chipmakers cutting back on use of lead

Intel and National Semiconductor say they're getting closer to the environmentally friendly goal of eliminating the use of lead in their products.

Chipmakers are working to get the lead out of their products.

On Wednesday, Intel and National Semiconductor separately announced that they will be eliminating the metal from most of the products they sell. Lead has been targeted by environmental groups and others for the health issues that arise when PC circuit boards and CRT (cathode ray tube) monitors are improperly discarded.

Intel said it would begin shipping lead-free microprocessors and chipsets in the third quarter and lead-free embedded processors in the second quarter. Its first lead-free memory chips debuted last year.

National Semiconductor, meanwhile, said that by the end of the year it would phase out lead from its lineup of integrated circuits, which appear in, among other products, flat-panel displays from Samsung. The company also plans to reduce its use of bromine- and antimony-based flame retardants, which also have been identified as potential health hazards.

Chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices has begun working on lead-free products as well, in advance of a European law that sets a July 2006 date for lead to be phased out of electronics goods.

Lead has long served as a key ingredient in soldering materials, and a tiny amount will continue to be used in chip products for some time. The lead-tin solder is being replaced by a tin-silver-copper alloy.

Much of the attention given to lead has involved its use in CRT monitors. Lead has been virtually eliminated from the front glass panel of CRTs, but an alternative material has been hard to find for other parts of the monitor. A number of laws have been proposed, and a few enacted, to address the use of potentially toxic materials in electronic products.

PC makers such as Dell and Hewlett-Packard have been working on the issue from a different angle, through recycling programs they've started during the last few years.