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Q: Environmental contamination from recycling ( Answered,   1 Comment )
Subject: Environmental contamination from recycling
Category: Science
Asked by: greenlady-ga
List Price: $20.00
Posted: 10 May 2004 13:01 PDT
Expires: 09 Jun 2004 13:01 PDT
Question ID: 344192
I've heard that a good number of toxic waste sites used to be
recyclers.  How big a problem has this been?  Is it still a possible
concern today?
Subject: Re: Environmental contamination from recycling
Answered By: digsalot-ga on 10 May 2004 23:12 PDT
Hello there

To start with, I am going to take a segment from another question I
answered and use it here.  When discussing recycling centers producing
toxic waste, it would seem that one kind of recycling is turning the
whole country into a toxic waste dump, or at least the agricultural
sections of it.

"A July 1997 Seattle Times investigation by Duff Wilson found that,
across the nation, industrial wastes laden with heavy metals and other
dangerous materials are being used in fertilizers and spread over
farmland. The process, which is legal, saves dirty industries the high
costs of disposing of hazardous wastes." - that quote is from the
answer to this question:

According to the above article:

"In Gore, Okla., a uranium-processing plant is getting rid of
low-level radioactive waste by licensing it as a liquid fertilizer and
spraying it over 9,000 acres of grazing land.

"In Tifton County, Ga., more than 1,000 acres of peanut crops were
wiped out by a brew of hazardous waste and limestone sold to
unsuspecting farmers.

"And in Camas, "highly corrosive, lead-laced waste from a pulp mill is
hauled to Southwest Washington farms and spread over crops grown for
livestock consumption."

You can learn more about that here:
"Talking Trash" - - You will
find that Duff Wilson nearly grabbed a Pulitzer Prize with these

More: - - "An Associated Press release said that toxic metals,
chemicals and radioactive materials were routinely being "recycled"
and used in fertilizer on our nation's food supply, and there were no
laws governing it's use!" - quote from article by By William Blase -

Still more: - - "Among the substances found in some recycled
fertilizers are cadmium, lead, arsenic, radionuclides and dioxins, at
levels some scientists say may pose a threat to human health." These
substances could pose a danger to farm workers as well as consumers
who eat the crops grown on farms fertilised in this way. They can also
damage the crops themselves and contaminate ground water." - "From New
Engineer: Toxic Waste in Fertiliser"  This is an Australin publication
talking about toxic recycling in the US.  

Now with that as a start, we can go right to the last part of your
question, "Is it still a possible concern today?"

It certainly is.  The information above is about a "legal" form of
recycling in the US.

Some recycling actually creates more waste than creating a product
from natural resources.  Some forms of paper are good  examples of
that.  It might save a tree but it produces two to four times as much
sludge as making pulp from pulpwood.   Now this sludge is not
officially classified as "toxic."  But to manufacture pulp from
recycled paper, you've got to get rid of the ink and toner on the old
paper. Existing processes do that job with high temperatures and
caustic chemicals.  There will be some of this chemical residue find
its way into the sludge.  While batch by batch, such sludge production
may be rather harmless, the cumulative effect over time has yet to be
determined.  So the 'possible concern' is real.  And in this case, the
problem is directly related to recycling.

There may be some good news in the pipeline about that process. 
Science has developed a way to use enzymes (naturally produced
chemicals that trigger specific chemical reactions) to do the same job
without fuss or muss.

"After four years of development the technology is being used in
extended industrial trials, ands is "on the verge of acceptance," says
Klungness. Its advantages include lower cost and less sludge to
dispose of."
From "Smart ideas on recycling" - 

The computers you and I are exchanging question and answer with are
another rather new but rapidly growing part of the problem.  This does
not really deal with former, or even current 'recyclers' but some form
of recycling is necessary and the law is slow catching up. - - "What
happens to all the CPUs, monitors, and keyboards when their useful
life is over? What happens to dead TVs, old cell phones, and all of
Hollywood's leftover Orgasmatrons? Mostly, they've been going to
landfills, and that's a problem?not only because it adds to the volume
of trash, but more so because these components contain toxins such as 
lead, cadmium, and mercury. And given that electronic waste is the
fastest growing component of the municipal waste stream, it's a
problem that will loom larger in the future." - -  As I say, that does
not address the question of toxic waste produced by recyclers, but
since the question created an opening, I figured it is a chance to
bring this to your (and others) attention.
Quote from "Old Computers and Electronics?A Growing Toxic Waste
Problem" -
- website of

As for former recyclers creating toxic waste problems, you asked how
big a problem this has been.  Well the answer is "big."  I should have
put that word in caps but I didn't want people thinking I was yelling
at them.

Just a couple of examples.  To begin with, I will use two sites in
Augusta, Georgia, a medium size city.  If the problem is this bad in
Augusta, you can perhaps imagine the situation in larger cities
(though there may be exceptions to any blanket statement.)

The article this is from deals with cleaning up former recycler sites
and money.  Yep, the ol' money thing again.

"Two of the sites -- the former Goldberg scrap metal yard and the
Alternate Energy Resources recycling site -- are in Augusta.

About $10 million has been spent at the Goldberg site, where mercury
and thousands of tons of scrap metal and contaminated soil have been
removed. But state officials say an additional $135,000 will be needed
to further explore contamination in groundwater beneath the site. And,
at Alternate Energy Resources an estimated $250,000 is needed for soil
work and $3.5 million for groundwater work." - quote from "Recycling
Today Online; Delays Loom for Toxic Waste Cleanup"
- This website is operated by Recycling Today which is a journal of
the professional recycling industry.  You will find interesting
articles, current legislation information and much more.  This site
alone can provide much of the answer to your question.

Now here is a success story but it still illustrates just how 'big'
the problem from former recycling sites can be. - - "The site was home
to a former waste oil recycling facility that operated from 1941 until
1985. During the operation of the facility, several million gallons of
waste oil were disposed of in lagoons and waste pits on the property.
Periodic flooding of the adjacent Schuylkill River resulted in
millions of gallons of contaminated waste oil sludge discharging into
the river." - - This site has been returned to beneficial use. - quote
and information from an EPA press release.

A couple of others from Florida: - - "The City Industries Superfund
site is a former hazardous waste recycling and transfer facility in
Goldenrod Township, Florida. City Industries received, handled,
stored, reclaimed, and disposed of a variety of waste chemicals."  The
site has been cleaned up.

"A former drum recycling facility had operated at this site in
southern Florida from 1966 to 1981. Corrosives, solvents, and toxic
metals - used to clean the drums that had once contained chemical and
hazardous waste - had been dumped onto areas of the property
contaminating soil and groundwater used for drinking." - The site has
been cleaned.

Both of the above examples are from "Brief Success Stories for
Florida, Superfund Redevelopment Initiative, US EPA" 

So the basic answer to your question is "yes" many former recycling
sites are/were a problem, they are/were a big problem, and there is
still reason for concern.

Also, as an archaeologist, I am aware of another big problem which has
nothing to do with former recyclers or industry.  It is a problem
nobody outside our field wants to discuss due to the emotional baggage
involved.  But it is something anybody concerned with pollution needs
to be concerned about and eventually the topic must be addresses in
spite of qualms.  Among the most dangerous and poisonous sites in
America are our old cemeteries.  (perhaps at a bit of a stretch they
could be called recycling centers).  But they are sending plumes of
thousands of pounds of pure arsenic heading for our underground water
This from - - Not a pleasant read but
one that is needed when addressing a subject such as you asked about. 
It does tie in.

Search - Google
Terms - former recycling sites toxic waste - - I really needed nothing
else.  From that alone the links just came.

Website links used are included in text of the answer.

If I may clarify anything before rating the answer, please ask.

Subject: Re: Environmental contamination from recycling
From: neilzero-ga on 10 May 2004 19:49 PDT
I'm sure it continues to be a problem today, but I hope less poluting
than in past decades. The cans, bottles, paper and plastic that are
recyled typically produces less polution than producing virgin
materials. There are thousands of poluting processes that are largely
unregulated, but mostly small scale. Moving much of our production
overseas is increasing polution rapidly in some overseas locals, but
generally reducing USA polution.  Neil

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