Some time ago, I posted a report that the manufacturing process to build the supposedly environmentally-friendly Toyota Prius produced a lot of pollution. In response to that Post, greenies were most angered, pointing out the supposed fallacy in the study that highlighted the pollution.
Well, here goes another pin to burst the bubble: China has become a major player in the production of solar panels; however, the production process reportedly produces lethal hazardous waste. No less than that liberal icon, The Washington Post, reports this in a Sunday, march 9, 2008 story entitled "Solar Energy Firms Leave Waste Behind in China" (the firms are Chinese). Excerpts:
GAOLONG, China -- The first time Li Gengxuan saw the dump trucks from the nearby factory pull into his village, he couldn't believe what happened. Stopping between the cornfields and the primary school playground, the workers dumped buckets of bubbling white liquid onto the ground. Then they turned around and drove right back through the gates of their compound without a word.
This ritual has been going on almost every day for nine months, Li and other villagers said.
In China, a country buckling with the breakneck pace of its industrial growth, such stories of environmental pollution are not uncommon. But the Luoyang Zhonggui High-Technology Co., here in the central plains of Henan Province near the Yellow River, stands out for one reason: It's a green energy company, producing polysilicon destined for solar energy panels sold around the world. But the byproduct of polysilicon production -- silicon tetrachloride -- is a highly toxic substance that poses environmental hazards.
"The land where you dump or bury it will be infertile. 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," said Ren Bingyan, a professor at the School of Material Sciences at Hebei Industrial University.
Other examples of trade-offs abound-for example, when under government mandate oil companies laced their gasoline with the additive MTBE to clean the air in California, an unintended consequence was to enhance difficult water pollution problems (because MTBE is very difficult to remediate). In short, like everything else in life, "going green" produces its own unintended consequences. "Going green" is an attractive platitude; but platitudes are not very helpful in evaluating real-world consequences of any given "green" technology.