It appears that green technologies may leave future generations with a heap of toxic waste.
Recently Spiegel here and other German media outlets reported on how VW may be required to recall 124,000 electric cars.
The reason for the potential recall is that the charging unit contains traces of cadmium, a heavy metal element that can be dangerous if humans are exposed to even lower levels over a long period.
Apparently one supplier failed to label that the product that contained the toxic heavy element and did not report it in the material specs. According to Spiegel, VW found 0.008 grams per charging unit in electric and hybrid vehicles produced between 2013 and 2018 in the brands of VW, Audi and Porsche.
Volkswagen claims that there is no risk to consumers because the cadmium containing part is fully enclosed inside a housing and so consumers cannot come into contact with the toxic metal.
However the cadmium content means that the vehicle violates the after-life recycling standards that is imposed on automobiles in Europe.
Green technologies contain toxic cadmium
Not only VW’s electric cars may have a problem with toxic metals, but so do thin-film solar panels.
One recent paper led by Ramos-Ruiz (2017) examined the leaching of cadmium and tellurium from cadmium telluride (CdTe) thin-film solar panels under simulated landfill conditions.
According to the paper’s abstract:
Low levels of Cd and Te were solubilized in both batch leaching tests (<8.2% and <3.6% of added Cd and Te, respectively). On the other hand, over the course of 30 days, 73% of the Cd and 21% of the Te were released to the synthetic leachate of a continuous-flow column simulating the acidic landfill phase. The dissolved Cd concentration was 3.24-fold higher than the TCLP limit (1 mg L-1), and 650-fold higher than the maximum contaminant level established by the US-EPA for this metal in drinking water (0.005 mg L-1). In contrast, the release of Cd and Te to the effluent of the continuous-flow column simulating the methanogenic phase of a landfill was negligible.”
Toxic cells not properly disposed of in many countries
Ramos-Ruiz et al remind that due to the presence of hazardous substances like Cd and lead (Pb) in PV technology, solar PV panels have been included in the European Union Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Directive and that many other countries have not yet introduced regulations to prevent the disposal of CdTe solar cells in MSW landfills despite the potential risks posed by PV technology.
This means don’t expect proper disposal in developing countries, especially Africa and Asia.
In the summary, the authors write:
The evidence found in this work indicates that the standardized TCLP and WET leaching tests might underestimate the leaching of Cd and Te from disposing decommissioned CdTe solar panels in landfills.