Brit Liggett

Solar Industry Responsible for Dumping 2.4 Million Tons of Lead on China and India

by , 09/04/11

solar energy, solar power, solar panel, solar technology, production, renewable energy technology, renewable energy manufacturing, renewable energy in the developing world, solar pollution, solar panel pollution, solar panel downside

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.

solar energy, solar power, solar panel, solar technology, production, renewable energy technology, renewable energy manufacturing, renewable energy in the developing world, solar pollution, solar panel pollution, solar panel downside

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.

Via Physorg

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6 Comments

  1. xenoscape September 8, 2011 at 1:59 pm

    I don’t understand the problem. Wasn’t the lead in the environment in the first place? It’s not like they imported it from an asteroid, adding something new to our environment. Do the manufactures have lead run off into rivers? Is it being boxed in landfills? How do you responsibly take care of lead waste?

  2. biostruct September 4, 2011 at 7:48 pm

    Can’t wait until Paul Hawken’s company OneSun enters the market, they seem to be up to some good stuff in terms of producing non-toxic solar panels.

  3. caeman September 2, 2011 at 8:38 am

    The solar industry is at blame, just as much as Apple is for not holding its supplier accountable to environmentally conscious practices. The solar panel makers know what their Chinese suppliers are doing, though they may claim otherwise. There mere act of choosing lead-acid batteries leads to this result.

    Those Thorium reactors are starting to look not so dirty.

  4. azbra September 1, 2011 at 7:46 pm

    You’re not wrong about the consequences of the lead-based battery industry in China and India. The paper is legit, and so are the concerns. But you need to understand that the solar industry in China doesn’t care so much about environmental issues. Their first world customers do. And in China and India, when they utilize PV & battery technology to advance their quality of life from no light and no refrigerator to one light and a dorm room fridge, rest assured that they couldn’t care less about where the batteries came from or how they got made, as long as the medicine stays cold. Cause they’re not hip to living ‘off-grid’.
    So don’t blame ‘the solar industry’. You should be shaming Chinese and Indian manufacturing. Better yet, write about how important it is for the US consumer to buy American Solar PV products that Bucky could be proud of.

  5. caeman September 1, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    Batteries. Gas.

    We are doomed either way.

  6. egalitare September 1, 2011 at 12:15 pm

    Does no good to create true renewable energy systems if the entire processing/waste stream isn’t properly accounted for. Yes, it costs more, but managing wastes and by-products properly also creates jobs. At the cost of the Financial Elites getting wealthier at a slower rate. I can live with that.

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