CleanTechnica is the #1 cleantech-focused
website
 in the world.


Solar Energy panel

Published on January 14th, 2009 | by Ariel Schwartz

18

Danger: Solar Panels Can Be Hazardous to Your Health



panel

It’s easy to think that solar panels can do no wrong— after all, they will help lead us out of our energy crisis, right? Unfortunately, these shining beacons of hope produce toxic e-waste just like cell phones, TVs, and computers. A report released today by the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition admonishes the solar industry to face its e-waste problem head on or risk “repeating the mistakes made by the microelectronics industry.”


The SVTC warns that solar panel production creates many of the same toxic byproducts as those found in semiconductor production, including silicon tetrachloride, dusts, and greenhouse gases like sulfur hexafluoride. These byproducts aren’t anything to scoff at— silicon tetrachloride, for example, makes land unsuitable for growing crops. And for each ton of polysilicon produced, four tons of silicon tetrachloride are generated.

There are steps that the solar industry can take to minimize toxic risks, however. The SVTC recommends that manufacturers test materials for toxicity before using them. Additionally, the group asks manufacturers to ramp up takeback programs.

But getting solar panel manufacturers to take back their products after 25 years (the average lifespan of silicon-based panels) could prove difficult, especially since other electronics manufacturers that make products with much shorter lifespans can’t get their takeback programs off the ground.

The only way manufacturers will aggressively pursue recycling and anti-toxicity campaigns is if we stop giving the solar industry a free pass and start demanding accountability.

Photo Credit: CC-licensed by flickr user David Boyle






Print Friendly

Tags: , ,


About the Author

was formerly the editor of CleanTechnica and is a senior editor at Co.Exist. She has contributed to SF Weekly, Popular Science, Inhabitat, Greenbiz, NBC Bay Area, GOOD Magazine, and more. A graduate of Vassar College, she has previously worked in publishing, organic farming, documentary film, and newspaper journalism. Her interests include permaculture, hiking, skiing, music, relocalization, and cob (the building material). She currently resides in San Francisco, CA.



  • Patricia Jarozynski
  • Sick in SoCal

    I have been sick and not sleeping since Solar installed on my house. I turned off the switch but now the company is fighting me about taking them off as we signed a contract. Any suggestions on how to go about fighting this big company

    • Bob_Wallace

      Rush to the grocery store.

      Purchase a roll of heavy duty aluminum foil.

      Fashion yourself a hat and wear it religiously.

    • http://zacharyshahan.com/ Zachary Shahan

      Let’s be realistic. Most likely, you are causing yourself problems that you don’t need. Forget about the solar panels on your roof, and enjoy the lower electric bills that come with them. Don’t cause yourself unnecessary problems.

  • Jayicus

    umm, what about the fact that it results in UV radiation concentrated on your roof above where you sleep.. Plus the amount of dirty electricity they create.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Just make sure you wear your tinfoil stocking cap to bed.

      And since you’ll be laying down a pair of shiny jockey shorts might be a good idea.

      How did this POS article get posted? The “pollutants” during panel manufacturing are captured. The amount that gets into the atmosphere is insignificant.

      Now, burning coal….

  • Anonymous

    solar energy causing a rapid increase in global temperatures in addition to poisoning the earth.we can stop and go backwards or we can go forward on scientific ignorance and destroy the earth with the solar panels .and the department of energy and the epa departments.

    citizens of the world, it has been told to[by] doltish ignorant stupid nincompoops and global warming scientist that fossil fuels are causing global warming.so we should move to a more cleaner energy like solar energy.this push for green solar energy by the green freaks,and the global warming freaks and ignorant greedy scientist to push solar energy is responsible for the rapid increase in temperatures in the last 30years . the fact is for every action there is an equal reaction.for every solar panel the temperature is amplified an equal amount of the temperature the sun is reflecting.it is called the mirror effect. meaning that the earths temperatures will increase more rapidly by the increasing of solar panels . ie or eg if the temperature of the day is 90 degrees the solar panel will increase the earth temperature the same amount by the heat reflection off the solar panel.this effect is called the mirror effect. to test the mirror effect ,if you take a mirror and reflect the sun rays off the mirror on some one sitting in the shade that person will feel the heat from the sun off the reflection from the mirror.even though he is in the shade .this is the mirror effect 2×2 effect .so in the past 30 years solar energy have increased and so have the global temperatures of the solar panels mirror effects..the fact is people this solar energy will cause the global temperatures to increase more rapidly.folks if we have no co2 or hc we will all die so why are we paying these con men co2 and hc taxes and they cant do a f/n thing to fix the global warming .why? because the people are stupid and these global warming con men and scientist are getting rich of a hoax.from the ignorance of scared people. i say abolish the carbon taxes from all businesses or tax the solar panels for a worse direct increase of global temperatures.now which scientist or global warming freak want to prove this solar panel mirror effect.is worse than fossil fuel effect on the earth temperatures.in fact these solar panels are causing the rapid increase of the storms and floods and tornadoes .these solar panels are ignition for the co2 and the hc in the clouds.i rest my case.

    • Cara

      I thought most panels installed on the roofs of residences are made of dark, non-reflective material which absorbs light and heat … so how does the mirror-effect apply? I think the main problem is the manufacturing and disposal process which generates toxicity.

  • Ellie

    I’ve heard that solar panels are highly recyclable – almost 95% of the silicon crystalline panel can be recycled. Also, if computur silicon was recycled more frequently, this would lower the cost of solar panels, since the higher cost of solar panels usually results for competition with the IT silicon industry.

  • Ellie

    I’ve heard that solar panels are highly recyclable – almost 95% of the silicon crystalline panel can be recycled. Also, if computur silicon was recycled more frequently, this would lower the cost of solar panels, since the higher cost of solar panels usually results for competition with the IT silicon industry.

  • jfarmer9

    Solar Fred per volume/ per kilowatt what is the most polluting energy source?

    Answer: Solar Panels

    This answer does not even take into account the hazardous by products that are produced when making solar panel. Also in this regard eventually since the cost of solar panels needs to come down they will be made outside the US. in countries that careless about regulating the hazardous by products that solar panels produce. I don’t even think China makes any distinction from tetrachloride, sulfur hexafluoride, silicon tetrachloride, and polysilicon and regular waste. Do you think foreign countries will adopt our EPA standards? If so go ahead and take another hit buddy

  • jfarmer9

    Solar Fred per volume/ per kilowatt what is the most polluting energy source?

    Answer: Solar Panels

    This answer does not even take into account the hazardous by products that are produced when making solar panel. Also in this regard eventually since the cost of solar panels needs to come down they will be made outside the US. in countries that careless about regulating the hazardous by products that solar panels produce. I don’t even think China makes any distinction from tetrachloride, sulfur hexafluoride, silicon tetrachloride, and polysilicon and regular waste. Do you think foreign countries will adopt our EPA standards? If so go ahead and take another hit buddy

    • Rebelwoc

      China recycles their tetrachloride, sulfur hexafluoride, silicon tetrachloride, and polysilicon. They put it in our pets food and infant formula. No waste there!

  • nix

    Curious, what sort of pollutants are produced in the manufacturing process on flexible film photo cells? If someone could do an article on that, it would be great.

  • nix

    Curious, what sort of pollutants are produced in the manufacturing process on flexible film photo cells? If someone could do an article on that, it would be great.

  • Ariel Schwartz

    Hi Korey,

    Glad you enjoy the site! Sorry if I wasn’t clear about the manufacturing bit – I just tweaked the post to fix that.

    Ariel

  • http://twitter.com/koreyk Korey King

    Hi Ariel, love what you’re doing at CleanTechnica — you’re one of the first sites I read every morning. Just had to chime in and clarify this: the panels themselves aren’t toxic while used, it’s the manufacturing process of most solar panels that produces the vast majority of waste.

    Honestly after reading the article on Venturebeat it just seems like a money-grab for more regulation. Which could be an OK thing, as long as it doesn’t make solar tech progress a bureaucratic mess and addresses the real problem: manufacturing and disposal standards.

    Thanks and keep up the awesome work,

    Korey

  • http://twitter.com/koreyk Korey King

    Hi Ariel, love what you’re doing at CleanTechnica — you’re one of the first sites I read every morning. Just had to chime in and clarify this: the panels themselves aren’t toxic while used, it’s the manufacturing process of most solar panels that produces the vast majority of waste.

    Honestly after reading the article on Venturebeat it just seems like a money-grab for more regulation. Which could be an OK thing, as long as it doesn’t make solar tech progress a bureaucratic mess and addresses the real problem: manufacturing and disposal standards.

    Thanks and keep up the awesome work,

    Korey

Back to Top ↑