The repercussions of toxic chemical and metal use keep coming, but this legacy is being dealt with and can be prevented reports Ruari McCallion
The automotive industry has been heavily involved in reducing pollution as legislation, consumer movements and competitive pressures have led to massive reductions in the amount of toxicity necessary to produce a motor car. However, it does not end there; the past keeps coming back to haunt the present as former industrial land is found to be polluted from activities years, or even decades ago, requiring major clean-up and detoxification before it is fit for use. In the USA, these activities come under the heading of ‘Superfund’.
There have been some quite startling and spectacular examples of the challenges that detoxification projects face. When Ford’s assembly plant at Mahwah, New Jersey was opened in 1956, it was the largest auto factory in the USA. Its legacy included PCBs, Freon, heavy metals, lead and arsenic, which are alleged to have caused a variety of illnesses in the community. Although the site was officially taken off the Toxic list in the 1990s it was reinserted in 2006, after the Environmental Protection Agency conceded it had failed to detect what turned out to be the majority of the pollution, over 80% of the toxic waste, in its original clean-up.
In the course of a legal case that went on for some years, Ford readily conceded that it had dumped waste at the site but made the case that what it did was legal at the time, which indeed it was. However, Superfund legislation CERCLA (the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act) now overrides what was legal at the time and holds the organisations that did the polluting responsible for the costs of the clean-up. Ford is far from alone in being held to account for such previously legal actions. GM and Chrysler plus their then-subsidiaries, now spun-out as suppliers, have been and are also now involved.
Clean-up can involve the complete removal of topsoil and substratas of earth and rock. In the Montrose and Del Amo Superfund sites in Harbor Gateway, Los Angeles, CA, pollutants from a synthetic rubber plant and neighbouring chemical producer included benzene and monochlorobenzene, posing a significant threat to groundwater. The rubber was produced by manufacturing styrene and butadiene. Waste was placed in six unlined pits and three unlined ponds and later covered with soil. The soil clean-up operation in the area near the Montrose site was completed in 2002; Shell began the clean-up of the Del Amo facility, constructing an impermeable cap over the waste pits and installing of a vapour extraction and treatment system. Additional remedial work to the soil and gas will start in 2013, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Agreement was reached in July 2012 for the construction of a system to clean up the Montrose and Del Amo groundwater. It will extract up to 700 US gallons of water a minute – a million gallons a day – and remove the benzene and monochlorobenzene, before reinjection into the aquifer. The treated water will be used to surround the remaining contaminated ground and prevent it from leaching into unaffected areas. The EPA said at the time of the announcement that it expected the treatment system would be completed in 18 months. Montrose, Bayer CropScience Inc., News Publishing Australia Limited and Stauffer Management Co. have assumed responsibility for the clean-up in a settlement that amounted to $14.6 million.
It is an expensive business. The City of Lansing, Michigan, has recently received $18 million from the US Federal government to assist in cleaning up the former GM Buick City and other sites. No former manufacturing centre is immune, nor is any manufacturer almost anywhere in the world. In the UK, Ford spent millions in the rehabilitation and regeneration of the huge site that was formerly occupied by its Dagenham plant, an old-style integrated facility with a foundry at one end and finished cars emerging at the other. The site is now home to the company’s largest diesel engine plant; to new housing; a business park; and, famously, a wind farm. The company attracted far less negative publicity than could have been expected when it took the decision to close the plant in 2000 and it has worked in partnership with local authorities and public agencies to avoid seeing the site turn into an industrial wasteland.
Of course, cheaper than cleaning up would be to avoid polluting in the first place. A lot of the pollutants are now banned, under RoHS (Restriction of Hazardous Substances), REACH (Registration, Evaluation, Authorisation and Restriction of Chemicals Regulation) and other legislation in the UK and EU, and equivalent measures elsewhere, so they are out of the supply chain – or their presence is greatly restricted. But there are still compounds and materials integral to auto manufacturing that present problems. Better to capture them before they get out of the plant and to reuse them, if possible.
While AMS has previously S reported on the way that Ford is capturing paint fumes at its Oakville, Ontario plant and using them to power electricity-producing fuel cells, Quaker Chemical Corporation is intercepting oils that would previously have gone to landfill and reusing them. Its 2PAQ system is able to save a ‘massive amount of waste’, according to Laurent Barnagaud, Quaker’s EMEA marketing manager. The system is designed to enable multiple reuse of coolant and cleaner oil. While it is possible to achieve incremental improvements in sustainability and performance by closer monitoring and the use of more bio-stable coolants to extend sump life in traditional processes, Quaker reckons its method is a different way of thinking. Put simply, it reuses cleaner fluid to top up coolant.
“In the 2PAQ system, instead of the outlet pipes simply collecting waste for disposal, they collect it for retreatment and use the cleaner to top up the central tanks of cutting fluid or coolant, instead of water,” Barnagaud says. “The cleaner is generally not particularly dirty but it is filtered, in order to remove fines and any metal parts.”
In specific terms, 2PAQ comprises a compatible, twopart coolant/cleaner designed to be used for a wide variety of operations. Quaker claims its system can cut waste generation by up to 90% and eliminates the need for capital investment in wastewater treatment equipment. It also reduces the danger of accidental spillage during transport. The two-component fluid is formulated in different ratios of the alkaline and oil phases mixed into water to prepare emulsions, making it suitable for a wide variety of different coolant and cleaner needs. For operations that require higher levels of lubrication, the ‘oil phase’ is used at a higher ratio in order to provide a more robust micro-emulsion, which is suitable for machining cast iron, steel, and aluminium alloys. It can also be used as a process cleaner.
When the cleaner solution becomes saturated, it is added to the coolant tank. “2PAQ was launched five years ago. The concept was already known but no one had been able to get it to work,” says Barnagaud. “It has been adopted by industry in France and it has evolved in Germany as well.” Among the automotive users mentioned by Quaker are Audi, Renault and Peugeot, as well as some Tier one suppliers such as Bosch and SKF.
Roydon Recycling plc, based in Manchester, UK, is not just cutting down on waste; it actively turns it into a revenue stream. “Using materials more efficiently and managing waste better enables manufacturers to reduce costs, make money and increase the sustainability of their operations,” says director Neil Taylor. He recommends companies (if they have not done so already) to set up individual streams for the collection of hazardous liquids and solid wastes. “Cooling and other waste water can be recovered and treated if necessary for re-use on site, instead of discharging to sewerage systems. Fix any leaks to reduce waste and review spill and chemical handling procedures,” he advises.
While the production of some metal waste is unavoidable, including trimming and off-cuts from casting, foundry, welding, soldering and grinding, there are also secondary markets from the recycling of this waste. Computeraided cutting and planning will help to minimise off-cut materials while sand used in foundries can be collected for recycling and green sand can be composted.
Roydon also recommends companies ensure equipment is wellmaintained and regularly cleaned. Business improvement consultants like Suiko and anyone using OEE would say the same; well-maintained equipment is more effective. “Use paint monitoring software to calculate the exact amount of paint required and maintain painting equipment such as spray nozzles carefully,” Taylor adds. He also points out that around 10.8 million tonnes of packaging is used in the UK and businesses that place packaged goods on the market must comply with The Packaging Essential Requirements Regulations. Recycled plastic is getting more widespread in auto manufacturing and it can be used in almost as many applications as virgin material.
Roydon has a vested interest, having invested in recovery facilities that use advanced automated systems to sort and grade plastics for recycling. The company claims virtually nothing is left unsorted or wasted but that its systems also help to maintain very high quality in recycled raw materials. Even if an auto manufacturer does not use recycled plastics itself, it could at least earn revenue, rather than incurring landfill costs, through the proper collection and sorting of waste, including off-cuts and packaging.
“Roydon can supply and set up all the necessary on site equipment to segregate each waste stream such as balers, containers, compacters, colour-coded bins and the supporting signage,” says Taylor. “Automotive manufacturers receive a full audit trail, reported by the kilo and litres for each different type of waste stream so they see traceability and full transparency of the waste management process.” Legislation is making waste prevention ultimately cheaper for auto manufacturers. It can even be turned into a revenue stream, if it is of the right quality.