The ECHA (European Chemical Agency) has recommended that lead be included in the REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation, and Restriction of Chemicals) Regulations as part of an ongoing revision process. This would effectively ban its use in the production process for a number of products including musical instruments, with significant potential consequences.
Woodwind and brass instruments use lead as an alloying agent, whilst piano makers utilise it in key weights. Lead has unique qualities, including a higher melting point than alternatives. This means it can be shaped and re-shaped with heat, and quickly returned to a stable solid state, making both manufacture and repair as efficient as possible whilst also offering strength and longevity. One of the major challenges for manufacturers is that there is currently no suitable alternative that would maintain longevity, performance, and repairability in the same way.
The proposals are based on best practice for both environmental and health and safety reasons, which are clearly paramount, however, they do not take account of the very low levels of lead that are actually used in the production of musical instruments compared with other products or sectors.
Look out for an Industry Voices piece tomorrow, in which we discuss this matter with Stephen Wick.