Oakland, California based company; Aqua Metals has officially broken ground on a $30 million battery recycling plant located just north of Reno, Nevada. The plant is the first of its kind using the breakthrough “aqua refining” process. This innovative new process is expected to be far more environmentally friendly than traditional lead battery recycling at a significantly lower cost. The federal government sees the company’s ideas as so promising that the project has been guaranteed a $10 million loan from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
The plant will be the first “commercial-scale electro-chemical lead battery recycling plant” in the world. The revolutionary “aqua refining” process does not use traditional smelting to extract the lead out of old batteries. Instead the company uses a water based process to remove the lead from old batteries. This new method can remove approximately 80 tons of lead a day without all of the hazardous waste materials associated with traditional smelting practices.
Traditional lead smelting is the process of melting lead batteries mixed with other materials to an extremely high temperature. This allows the melted materials to separate into layers. The layer of liquid lead is collected and stored. The remaining materials are either sold for reuse by another industry or disposed of in a toxic waste removal process. The smelting process produces a significant air pollution containing heavy metals. Smelting is so toxic that it is amongst the top five most polluting industries in the world.
The aqua refining process is not only better for the environment, but it is much more cost effective and produces a much more pure form of lead. High purity lead is becoming a limited resource that is in high demand since 96% of rechargeable batteries contain lead acid. As more sophisticated, longer lasting batteries are developed to fit our increasingly mobile lives; the demand for high purity lead is only expected to increase. According to the Aqua Metals’ website, they have estimated that the need for lead acid batteries is anticipated to increase by 18%-30% per year.
Residents from Reno and its surrounding communities are excited to welcome Aqua Metals to the area. The addition of this recycling facility comes as construction has come to near completion at the all new Tesla Motor factory. Tesla built the $5 billion facility to manufacture the electric batteries for their cars and plans to employ 6,500 people in the area. The Aqua Metal’s plant will employ approximately seventy individuals. Overall, the city of Reno is excited to welcome these green industries to the area. Both factories create quality jobs, stimulate the economy, and may attract other green companies to the area. Reno would like to become a major technological hub in the United States. Both Aqua Metals and Tesla have stated that it was the low operating costs associated with the area that helped them decide to build in Northern Nevada.
The Aqua Metals plant is expected to be completed in April 2016 an open at full production by October 2016. The anticipated seventy employees will be hired for May 2016.
A team of Sacramento researchers have found a new way to significantly reduce the amount of mercury contamination is in the local wetlands. The area became heavily polluted with mercury following the Gold Rush era. The heavy metal was used by gold seekers to help in the mining process. The water contamination became especially dangerous as the mercury combine with the organic molecules in the wetlands, forming methyl mercury, which is much more toxic.
The team of dedicated scientists worked on this research for two years, creating nine wetland test sites on publicly owned land in the Sacramento area. Three of the wetlands were treated with aluminum salts, three with iron, and the last three were regular water. Each test site was stocked with mosquitofish in order to study the levels of mercury. Mercury levels were decreased in the wetlands treated by aluminum salts by 62% and 76% in the wetlands treated with iron.
This technique of decontamination is known as a coagulant method. The iron or aluminum salts attach to the smaller mercury particles and force them to sink to the wetland’s sediment floor. This removes it from the water, decreasing the amount available for consumption by fish and other wildlife.
This is especially important in the Sacramento area as the California Department of Public Health found that the majority of the area’s Hmong, Laotian, and Cambodian populations rely on the fish they catch from these contaminated waterways to feed their families. These individuals also have little knowledge of the contamination that they are being exposed to. Exposure to mercury can result in developmental and mental problems, especially in young children and fetuses.
There are several downsides to implementing the coagulant method on a large scale, the main one being that the process is expensive. At such a high cost, the method doesn’t technically solve the problem, it merely temporarily sinks it. Politicians approving tight budgets are not likely to approve a temporary fix. The contaminated sediment could be removed and trucked to a site for hazardous waste materials, but that would prove even more costly.
A Summer Sunday afternoon at the Hulman Mini-Speedway in Terre Haute, Indiana quickly became the dramatic scene of a Hollywood movie. Spectators, primarily families with children, were attending an event at the speedway when residents began to cough, experience throat irritation, and developed an acidic taste in their mouths. The scary scene was all a result of a hazardous waste material spill at a nearby chemical company.
Many spectators had to lie down or began to vomit; others simply did not feel “well.” Those present also reported experiencing a burning feeling in their lungs while breathing. Many used t-shirts as makeshift masks to try and protect themselves from the fumes. Others began to run out of the Speedway in a panic.
Authorities were eventually called to the racetrack and the remaining crowd of over 200 people was evacuated safely. First responders set up a “decontamination” tarp where spectators could be wiped down before they went home. Fifteen people at the Speedway were admitted to the hospital for treatment. Three of those individuals were kept for additional care and testing, the others were released shortly after admission.
The fumes were the result of a sulfur dioxide spill at the Hydrite Chemical Company in the Southern part of Terre Haute. Sulfur dioxide is a completely colorless, yet highly odiferous gas that can be dangerous to human health when inhaled. The chemically is often used in the manufacturing industry, especially when it comes to paper pulping or metal fabrication. The company insists that they are “one of the largest and most respected providers of chemicals and related services in the United States” and that they have never had any incidents like this one at their dozens of plant across the nation.
Officials have asked that residents living in close proximity to the Hydrite Chemical Company limit the amount of time that they spend outside until cleanup is completed. Additional air quality testing will need to be conducted to ensure that the area has been completely cleaned.
Cities across the nation have adopted a relatively simple practice to reduce the amount the energy that buildings are using to remain at a comfortable temperature. This newt trend in green architecture involves painting a traditional, black tar roof with white paint. New York City has been especially focused on broadening the use of the technique, with advocacy groups initiating the White Roof Project. The pale roofs are estimated to cut a building’s summer energy consumption by 10% - 40%. The concept is fairly similar to wearing light colored clothing in the winter to stay cool instead of dark colors which absorb the heat. A white roof keeps a roof 50 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than a dark tar roof.
A group of researchers that are being funded by the United States Navy have taken this thinking a step further, developing a glass paint that reflects both sunlight and ultraviolet rays from surfaces. The glass paint is a mixture of silica, glass, and silicon making it much more durable than standard paint. Instead of lasting ten years this paint can potentially last one hundred years. The paint would also greatly decrease the corrosion of the material it is coating. The durability of the product is precisely why the U.S. Navy continues to fund the research. The military has a vested interest in this paint and how it could transform its fleets of ships as well as other equipment.
The concept of using paint to make our world a more environmentally friendly place is not a new one, in that several products already exist, like a paint that claims to remove pollutants like formaldehyde from the home or another that is supposed to suck smog out of the atmosphere.
The white roof movement continues to spread in green construction, while glass paint is expected to be field tested within the next two years, available for commercial sale within five years. Once available to the public, building owners could begin to paint their rooftops with white glass paint, significantly reducing the amount of energy consumed.
Recent air quality tests have raised some concerns in the South Bay region of Los Angeles, California. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sampled 107 households this year following resident concerns of the neighborhood’s proximity to several federal superfund sites. South Bay is contains both the Del Amo and Montrose Superfund Sites. Residents are concerned that they are being exposed to dangerous hazardous waste materials coming from the two locations.
Testing has revealed that the homes contained chemical levels higher than EPA health standards. Many of the homes tested positive for benzene, chloroform, and trichloroethylene. Researchers are most alarmed to have discovered high levels of trichloroethylene or TCE as it can significantly increase an individual’s risk of developing cancer. TCE is also extremely dangerous for fetuses as they may experience heart defects or death if the mother is exposed.
Superfund officials stress that the contamination may be the result of chemicals commonly found in homes rather than from chemicals leaching from cleanup sites. They state that paint, vehicle or bathroom cleaner can result in elevated levels of those chemicals as well. Therefore, the link between the air quality test results and the superfund sites is not clear. The EPA also stresses that although the results were
Nonetheless, residents are alarmed by the findings and are concerned that their health may be in danger. One young couple discussed waiting to start a family until they move out of the area as they are worried about experiencing a pregnancy and later raising an infant under potentially dangerous conditions. Advocacy groups for the neighborhood call the EPA’s air testing results “scary and confusing” and hope to have solution from the EPA as soon as possible.
The community is unfortunately no stranger to being a current environmental issue, since the neighborhood was one of the nation’s most notorious dumping grounds for decades. Years back over 60 homes had to be demolished and 24 additional lawns torn up after DDT was discovered in the neighborhood’s soil. DDT is a dangerous pesticide that can result in major health concerns. The rampant contamination is all a direct result of the Del Amo plant, which manufactured synthetic rubber and the Montrose Chemical Corporation which manufactured DDT. Both companies have been closed for decades and are now federal superfund sites. The federal EPA has spent $48 million on the cleanup of these sites to date.
Both factories operated from the 1940s through the 1980s, freely dumping chemicals into storage ponds, holes, sewer systems and even the Pacific Ocean. In 2010 the EPA did find that commercial buildings built directly on the sites contained chemical vapors. The ground water in the in the area also tested positive for chemicals like TCE.
The EPA plans to follow up their initial testing by testing about forty additional homes this year. This time the EPA will be more thorough by drilling into the ground to see if contaminants are present. These test will result in the destruction of roads, driveways, and yards, but seems like a small price to pay for environmental safety.