We interviewed BSGA Director David Catanach about their work with the European Sign Federation to campaign against new health and safety regulations that could spell the end of neon signs as we know it.
Sign Update: What is the legislation that, if gone through, would have limited the amount of mercury used in neon?
David Catanach: These regulations come under RoHS and are a European wide regulation. The thinking behind the legislation is quite sound and kind of un-debateable when applied to mass produced products where the quantities of mercury being used is a very high and potentially dangerous quantity.
But the regulation covered every type of tube manufacture regardless of whether the tube were mass produced or hand crafted, which is what a neon sign is.
SU: Why did the BSGA campaign so hard to keep it as is - what would it have meant for signmakers if the law had changed?
DC: The regulations had already come into effect in 2013. If the BSGA and its colleagues in the European Sign Federation (ESF) had not continued to lobby on behalf of the industry, it would have possibly have been the death knell for neon signs that were not red in colour. For signmakers, they may not have felt that this would have affected their immediate business needs. But their clients would be extremely unhappy to find that they could no longer expect to be able to specify neon signs in a range of colours and that the industry had allowed this to happen.
SU: How did you feel when you and your colleagues won?
DC: Gaining the exemption and getting legislators to see how their carte blanche approach could decimate the European market for coloured neon signs was hard work; especially getting through to the right department and individuals. There was a sense of achievement and justification of our efforts when we achieved our goals. Our work has allowed for the continuance of non mass produced hand crafted linear discharge tubes or HLDT (neon signs to you and me) But under the Minamata Convention, by the year 2020, the use of mercury will be banned entirely with no exceptions. Our efforts have given the neon sign industry time to come up with a viable alternative that will satisfy the Minamata requirements.
SU: What is the importance/relevance of neon in our industry and the environment?
DC: Designers and customers still specify neon as a product for their signs even though LED products have gained a footing in the sign industry and have most probably out sold neon for some time. That doesn't mean that neon is a dying product as it can still in certain circumstances out perform LED. For the environment, the amount of mercury used overall for HLDT is tiny compared to the mass produced products which is what the RoHS regulations were designed to cater for.
DC: Without representation for this sort of legislation and regulation, the sign industry could wake up one day and find that they can no longer go about their business or sell products in a way that they used to. Supporting the BSGA by becoming members make sure that at least the industry has a strong mechanism to defend itself and its requirements to design, manufacture and trade. The more resilient we are, the more we can do. Plus there are other benefits in being members of your trade association.