Canals are notorious for being filled with industrial toxins, mud, tar and other forms of sewage that may potentially take years to clean up. The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn is no exception, and to clean the 300,000 cubic yards of miscellaneous sludge is expected to take the Environmental Protection Agency the better part of a decade. But what is to be done with this muck once it is all collected? Well, according to Popular Mechanics, one method the EPA is considering is to melt the ooze and mold it into washing-machine-sized glass cubes. Utilizing a process known as vitrification, the toxic sludge is put into metal molds and then heated up to very high temperatures. If there is enough sand in the material, which in this case is quite likely, the result will be transparent blocks that can then be used in construction or sculptures.
Vitrification is quite a common clean-up method and is often used at nuclear or contaminated waste sites. The fact that the toxic material is heated up to temperatures exceeding 2000 F means that any harmful organic matter is destroyed, leaving the end glass product completely harmless as well as resistant to corrosion.
Lead image Flickr © Listen Missy
By turning the waste into glass cubes, not only do you reduce the volume of waste, but you actually turn it into a useful, and arguably attractive, building material. Recycling at its finest! Everything is done to make sure that the vitrification process is as environmentally friendly as possible. Due to the toxic content of the canal mud, a filter is even used to catch emissions that would be created from heating the material.
The idea seems to have no drawbacks, except one – cost. Currently the EPA plans to conduct a feasibility and economic viability study to see whether it is cost-effective to use vitrification on the mud. If the idea is deemed too expensive, then other options for the mud include being placed in landfills, where it will be treated as hazardous waste, or laying a heavy clay over sections of the waterway, encasing the contaminants. But I think you’ll agree that these ideas seem much less environmentally friendly, and think of the buildings and structures that could be built with glass cubes made of recyclable mud!