Abound Solar's Toxic Waste Highlights Enviro Hypocrisy on Pollution

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Abound logoAnd the environmental pressure groups wanted you to believe solar energy was “clean” and “green.”

If that’s true, then why do we keep hearing the words “toxic” and “hazardous” connected with the production of solar panels – especially with the companies that fail?

The latest example of phony eco-purity is Abound Solar, which declared bankruptcy last summer after it had received $70 million of a $400 million Department of Energy stimulus loan guarantee. According to news reports from Colorado, where Abound was based, the state Department of Public Health and Environment found 2,000 pallets of solar panels that couldn’t be sold and therefore were identified as toxic.

“At the time of the inspection these 2,000 pallets of solar panels were deemed unsellable and a viable agreement for reclamation of the solar panels was not evident. Therefore, the department views these 2,000 pallets of solar panels as a characteristic hazardous waste for cadmium,” said the DPHE inspector’s report.

And according to an investigative report by Complete Colorado, which was the first outlet to break the story about Abound's downfall towards bankruptcy, the DPHE determined last year that the solar manufacturer's "waste stream" amounted to 630 pounds of hazardous cadmium compounds per month.

In addition, the environmental agency discovered more panels at another facility in Longmont, and hazardous waste at a Fort Collins site. The Northern Colorado Business Report said Abound’s bankruptcy trustee estimated the cleanup would cost about $2.2 million, so that’s another $2.2 million that taxpayers won’t see returned. We can all thank the environmental philosophy that government-knows-best, and ignorance about unintended consequences, for that.

The Denver Post reported that Abound believes some of the solar panels can be sold. The chief toxic chemical in the panels is cadmium, a cancer-causing agent. The newspaper said cadmium waste was found throughout Abound’s warehouses and research-and-development facilities, including “30 55-gallon drums of cadmium-contaminated fluids and two large tanks with a total of 2,500 gallons of cadmium-contaminated water” at its Longmont factory.

“At both manufacturing facilities,” said Joe Schieffelin, manager of DPHE’s solid- and hazardous-waste program, “there is a probability of cadmium contamination throughout the buildings.”

Wonderful. And as more solar companies – many of them failed startups – go belly-up, we can probably expect to see more of this kind of thing, since when they run out of money they can’t afford to clean up their messes. For example, last April many media outlets reported how the iconic failure of President Obama’s green energy program – Solyndra – had left behind toxic waste at a facility it rented in Milpitas, Calif.

A 2009 white paper (PDF) co-authored by San Jose State assistant professor Dustin Mulvaney for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition listed other potential “end-of-life” hazards from solar panel production that included cadmium telluride, crystalline silicon, amorphous silicon, copper indium selenide, copper indium gallium selenide, gallium arsenide, hexavalent chromium, brominated flame retardants, chromium, and lead. It’s not beyond realistic theory that if these were byproducts of the fossil fuel, mining or logging industries, the likes of the Sierra Club and Environmental Defense would have conniption fits and be launching numerous lawsuits to get their activities halted.

Of the Solyndra mess, Mulvaney said, “Essentially it looks like they left a pretty big mess behind…. Materials labeled hazardous waste require a lot more protocol, so it’s actually a lot more expensive to clean.”

But since the environmental pressure groups prefer to obstruct things like the Keystone Pipeline, coal mining, and hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, the solar industry gets a pass. That’s especially the case for the Obama administration, which instead has spoken of the need for the U.S. to keep up with the Chinese in the wind and solar industries. Yet the push to “compete” has led to environmental catastrophes elsewhere in the world. The Washington Post reported in 2008 how a corporation in the Henan Province of China, near the Yellow River, which produced polysilicon “destined for solar energy panels sold around the world,” was dumping “buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground” and returning to the company’s compound.

“The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile,” said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University. “No grass or trees will grow in the place. . . . It is like dynamite -- it is poisonous, it is polluting. Human beings can never touch it.”

It would be interesting to see what the breakdown of toxic waste produced per BTU generated is for each energy source. Solar and wind are so inconsistent (no sun, no wind, no electricity), and deliver far less power than fossil fuel sources, that the hazard levels created for them must be off the charts.

Yet they are protected because they are pet industries of the political class and the environmentalists’ cabal. Ishan Nath, a Stanford scholar specializing in economics and Earth systems, wrote in the university’s Journal of International Relations (PDF) that “until these issues are properly addressed, a shadow of doubt will hang over the true environmental impacts of solar energy.”

Except in Washington D.C., where political correctness on energy means never having to admit you’re an inefficient mass polluter.

Paul Chesser is an associate fellow for the National Legal and Policy Center and publishes CarolinaPlottHound.com, an aggregator of North Carolina news.