It turns out that some members of the solar panel manufacturing industry might actually be doing harm while advancing renewable energy by dumping millions of tons of lead into the environment in China and India. It’s something we’ve heard before — Apple had issues last year with this very problem — a big company, supposedly doing good while skirting environmentally safe manufacturing protocols during the process. A University of Tennessee engineering professor just released a study revealing the solar industry’s dirty ways, noting that lead pollution can lead to cardiovascular issues, central nervous system damage, kidney failure, reproductive issues and learning disabilities and violent behavior in children.
Here at Inhabitat we talk a lot about whole systems thinking (thanks for the insight Buckminster Fuller), a way of going about things that takes into account every action from start to finish and makes sure that everything involved stays stable or is replenished by the time the task is through. It seems our solar manufacturing friends have taken some shortcuts and left whole systems thinking behind. What good are we doing making renewable energy if we’re just poisoning ourselves and our environment in the process? It turns out the solar manufacturing industry uses a whole lot of lead batteries during its processing and function and a whole lot of the mining, smelting, battery manufacturing and recycling of those batteries takes place in China and India, where that lead is seeping into the environment due to lack of oversight.
“Investments in environmental controls in the lead battery industry, along with improvements in battery take-back policies, are needed to complement deployment of solar power in these countries,” said Chris Cherry the author of the paper. “Without improvements, it is increasingly clear that the use of lead batteries will contribute to environmental contamination and lead poisoning among workers and children.” C’mon solar industry, give us a break here – this is terrible news. We’re on board with Perry Gottesfeld, co-author of the study’s thought that “the solar industry has to step up and take responsibility for ensuring that their lead battery suppliers are operating with adequate controls as long as they are going to be reliant on this technology.” Let’s hope they get on fixing this problem soon or as Gottesfeld said, we can be sure the issue will grow larger and bite them in the behind.