Church organs have come under threat from EU directives aimed at reducing the amount of lead that reaches landfill sites

Church organs have come under threat from EU directives aimed at reducing the amount of equipment containing lead that reaches landfill sites.

The EU’s risk of hazardous substances (RoHS) and waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) directives come into force on 1 July 2006. By reducing lead and other toxic metals in electrical equipment such as mobile phones, the amount of these metals being dumped will be reduced. 

Pipe organs are electrically powered, and as such must comply with the directives. Organ pipes are made from a tin/lead alloy, which can be easily manipulated, making it easier to make precise adjustments that determine the sound of each pipe, according to the Institute of British Organ Building (IBO). Under the WEEE and RoHS directives, any new organs would be prohibited from using lead in their manufacture.

Organ makers are lobbying to be granted exemption from the directive and have embarked on a major campaign. Consequently, EU member states have been asked by the European Commission to clarify to what extent pipe organs fall within the scope of the RoHS Directive. In a letter to the Commission, IBO welcomed the Commission’s ’constructive approach’ but said ’there is a lack of understanding of the wide array of situations that are part of normal organ-building practice. In this respect, public reassurances to date have done little to modify the reality of our original concerns’.

Michael Hynes, an expert in lead-crystal chemistry at the National University of Ireland, Galway, called the directive ’bizarre’. ’Organ pipes don’t get consigned to waste,’ Hynes told Chemistry World. The unique sound produced by organ pipes is only possible because of lead. ’There’s no other element that gives it its characteristics,’ he said. 

Katharine Sanderson