By Syndi Nettles Anderson, guest writer for the Independence Institute Energy Policy Center
Earlier this week Todd Shepherd of Complete Colorado reported that before thin-filmed cadmium-telluride solar panel manufacturer Abound Solar declared bankruptcy it was the subject of a Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) investigation after an anonymous tip raised concerns about cadmium contamination.
Shepherd provided documents showing that the now abandoned Weld County plant produced monthly 630 pounds of highly toxic cadmium waste that was shipped to Deer Trail in Arapahoe County for storage.
Because of the recent interest in cadmium, below is a primer on the rare earth element used in so many products besides solar panels.
Cadmium, one of the 17 rare earth elements (REE), is a soft silver-grey metal, commonly found in ores containing zinc. Products that use significant cadmium include rechargeable batteries, solar cells and protective steel coatings. Recently cadmium has been priced about a dollar per pound.
Cadmium is a byproduct when zinc is refined from zinc ore, or recycled from nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries. The largest producers of cadmium are China, South Korea, Japan and North America. The concentration of cadmium in the earth’s crust is between 0.1 and 0.5 parts per million (ppm). This is about one hundred times more common than gold.
Cadmium is very useful in rechargeable batteries and solar cells. In the U.S., about 27 percent of cadmium-nickel batteries are recycled, which requires batteries to be taken apart.
However, cadmium is also very poisonous. Exposure is most dangerous when breathing in dust or vapors containing cadmium. Other methods of exposure are also dangerous, as cadmium can be absorbed through the skin or by ingestion.
People can absorb cadmium through inhalation, absorption or by eating it. The cadmium is transported through the body by blood cells and plasma. Cadmium goes into the kidneys, resulting in kidney failure. Before toxic levels are reached, kidney function will start to deteriorate. Generally a third to half of the cadmium that is in a body will be found in the kidneys. Cadmium will also move to the liver and muscles. In the liver, the half-life of the cadmium is 5-15 years, in the muscles-30 years and in the kidneys 10-30 years.
During ore smelting processes, cadmium is released into the air. It may also be released into the atmosphere by burning cadmium-containing garbage. Cadmium exposure can cause throat and lung irritation. Lower levels of exposure also cause shortness of breath, and with prolonged exposure resulting in bronchiolitis and emphysema with lung damage, bloody coughing, and accumulation of fluids in the body. One highly concentrated exposure can cause lifetime damage to lungs. 
Metal fume fever can be caused by inhaling cadmium during the welding and metal heating processes of older silver solder. Metal fume fever can cause flu like symptoms with fainting, sore throats, coughs, and headaches. Working with cadmium requires extremely well ventilated areas, respirators, and extreme care. Regular blood and urine checks are required to monitor the amount of cadmium that can get into the body. 
Phosphate fertilizers, sewage sludge and contaminated water can deposit cadmium into food sources. Growing rice and wheat can absorb Cadmium. Large ocean fish can also take up a lot of cadmium. Smokers also intake cadmium into their bodies and have about double the cadmium levels that non-smokers have. Cadmium is associated with breast cancer, lung cancer, prostate cancer, heart disease, and kidney dysfunction. 
As a result of the increased awareness of the danger of cadmium to humans, the EPA released a new report December 3, 2012, expanding the regulations and proposing new regulations regarding cadmium.
This final rule requires manufacturers (including importers) of cadmium or cadmium compounds, including as part of an article, that have been, or are reasonably likely to be, incorporated into consumer products to report certain unpublished health and safety studies to EPA. 
Occupational Safety Health Association (OSHA) also highly regulates workers contact with cadmium stating,
Cadmium and its compounds are highly toxic and exposure to this metal is known to cause cancer and targets the body’s cardiovascular, renal, gastrointestinal, neurological, reproductive, and respiratory systems.
Requirements to protect workers from cadmium exposure are addressed in specific OSHA cadmium standards covering general industry (1910.1027), shipyards (1915.1027), construction (1926.1127) and agriculture (1928.1027).
In conclusion, Cadmium is critical to the solar cell and rechargeable battery industry but extreme care must be taken to prevent cadmium from getting into the air, water or plant life. Cancer, lung damage and kidney failure are real risks for cadmium exposure.
 Wilburn, D.R., 2007, Flow of cadmium from rechargeable batteries in the United States, 1996-2007: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2007–5198, 26 p., available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/sir/2007/5198/.
 Common environmental contaminant, cadmium, linked to rapid breast cancer cell growth. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/04/120423184203.htm
American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) (2012, March 15). Dietary cadmium may be linked with breast cancer risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/03/120315094506.htm
Cell Press (2012, September 12). Studies shed light on how to reduce the amount of toxins in plant-derived foods. ScienceDaily. Retrieved February 14, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2012/09/120912125517.htm
President Barack Obama put a halt to the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) proposed air-quality standards just before the Labor Day weekend. The Wall Street Journal opined that the president cited the struggling economy as his main reason for not wanting to tighten ozone regulations at this time:
Come January 2010, the Obama EPA said it wanted to lower the ozone standard more, to between 0.060 and O.070 ppm. Problem is, this would have put 85% of monitored U.S. counties (628 out of 736) into “non-attainment” status. And the problem with that is that under current law, non-compliance effectively forces many utilities, businesses and agricultural operations in those counties to shelve expansion plans.
Translation: no new jobs.
WSJ called the president’s decision a “rebuke” of EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson:
whose decision to tighten the standard was based on an advisory-board recommendation that the Bush administration had rejected. In a statement, Ms. Jackson said the agency would “revisit the ozone standard,” but she pointedly stopped short of endorsing the president’s decision.
But the president’s decision is also be a rebuke of Governor Bill Ritter, Colorado lawmakers on both sides of the aisle, environmental special interest groups, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, Xcel Energy, Public Utilities Commission and industry that all employed the EPA regulation scare tactic as a reason to pass HB 1365, the fuel switching bill, and HB 1291, the State Implementation Plan (SIP). And this isn’t the first time that the federal government has blown the justification that Colorado lawmakers used to ram through the disastrous energy legislation.
Energy policy analyst William Yeatman of the Competitive Enterprise Institute and contributor to this blog, pulled no punches in this exclusive interview on the Amy Oliver Show on News Talk 1310 KFKA. Yeatman says lawmakers got duped. Obama cites economic reality of the job killing regulations while Colorado lawmakers and the CDHPE cite the bogus excuse of “reasonably foreseeable” air-quality standards that never materialized. Other points from the Yeatman interview:
- The PUC cited bogus deadlines due to “reasonably foreseeable” regulations and compressed the “accelerated Electric Resource Plan” from 18 to 30 months into 3 months.
- Rush was also to ensure Ritter’s environmental legacy
- The “big lie” was “obvious” and not the first for CDPHE
- Xcel ratepayers are the big losers because they will pay $1 billion for an unnecessary energy plans.
- Ritter won’t be hurt by any of this because he isn’t “encumbered by the truth.”
Basically Colorado lawmakers bought into these phony deadlines and threats of EPA usurping state authority, while Xcel ratepayers got stuck with bill. We’d like to say we enjoy the annoying chorus of “we told you so, we told you so!” But vindication is bittersweet because some of us are Xcel ratepayers.
Filed under: Archive, CDPHE, HB 1365, New Energy Economy
The Politics Colorado Blog today reports great news:
“Tuesday, Senate Republicans sent a letter to Senate President Shaffer asking Legislative Council to hold a public hearing to review the changes made to the State Implementation Plan (SIP) for implementing regulations for “regional haze”…
…”We think it’s important that Legislative Council hold a public hearing on this effort to give the General Assembly and public more time to consider the impact this plan will have on Colorado,” said Senator Scott Renfroe, R-Greeley.
“Serious questions and concerns have risen about the timing of the information and the data used in the plan,” concluded Renfroe.
As readers of this blog know well, I’ve long railed against the CDPHE’s manipulations of the regional haze rule. In short, the Department has used this regulation to push an anti-coal agenda.
On January 15, the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) submitted to the General Assembly a State Implementation Plan (SIP) to comply with the Regional Haze provision of the Clean Air Act. The General Assembly must approve the SIP before it can be sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for final review. The CDPHE will seek a rubber stamp, but the General Assembly must reject the proposed SIP, because costs far exceed benefits.
Opposition to the Regional Haze SIP is merited by the CDPHE’s treatment of Hayden Units 1 and 2 in Northwest Colorado. The SIP calls for almost than $140 million in nitrogen oxides (NOx) controls known as Selective Catalytic Reduction (SCR). Here’s why this is a bad deal for Coloradans:
- Costs exceed benefits by a 40:1 ratio
Regional haze is an aesthetic regulation. That is, it has nothing to do with health, and is meant only to improve visibility at national parks. In 2006, EPA Region 8 made a “ballpark” estimate that the value to Colorado residents of reducing a ton of NOx in order to comply with Regional Haze is $95. The CDPHE is mandating pollution controls that cost $3,385/ton NOx reduced at Hayden 1, and $4,064/ton NOx reduced at Hayden
- Even the EPA concedes that SCR is not cost effective
In the Regional Haze guidance document, the EPA stated, “we have not determined that SCR is generally cost-effective.”
- Neighboring states determined that SCR is not cost-effective
In Utah, the Department of Environmental Quality deemed that SCR was too costly, and instead proposed low NOx burners in its Regional Haze SIP. This technology is 95% less expensive than SCR.
- Evidence Suggests the CDPHE grossly overestimated visibility benefits
During the CDPHE deliberations on the Regional Haze SIP, Joseph S Scire, an environmental consultant, testified that the CDPHE’s overly simplistic visibility model “significantly overestimated…the predicted visibility benefits associated with SCR controls.” Such an overestimation would mean that the CDPHE’s preferred pollution controls are even less cost-effective.
Earlier this month, I asked whether CDPHE (a.k.a., “the Department”) is cooking the books on Colorado ozone. In particular, it struck me as suspicious that the Department used data from 2006, an anomalously active wildfire season, as inputs for models used to project ambient air concentrations of ozone through 2020. You can read all about it here, but in a nutshell, wildfires inflate ozone, so the CDPHE’s use of the second-most active wildfire season on record as a constant in an ozone model is inappropriate…unless, of course, it was trying to exaggerate the threat of a federal crackdown on air quality in order to, say, pass legislation that mandates fuel switching, like HB 1365. Remember, the Denver-area’s non-attainment for federal ozone regulations was a major reason put forth by the Ritter administration in support of Clean Air Clean Jobs Act.
**Here’s the Wikipedia entry on ozone; for this post, all you need to know is that nitrogen oxides (NOx) are a primary precursor for the creation of ozone
In the two weeks since I wrote that post, I’ve become even more suspicious of the CDPHE’s ozone practices. Here’s why. On page 1-4 of the “2015 and 2020 Ozone Projections for the Denver Area,” ENVIRON (the modeling company) explains that input data for NOx emissions was provided by the Department. On page 2-24, EVIRON states that NOx emissions from point sources were projected to increase 23% by 2015 and 46% by 2020. So CDPHE told the modelers that NOx was expected to increase in Colorado.
Is the Department of Public Health and Environment cooking the books on Colorado ozone? Without explanation, CDPHE plugged 2006 meteorological data into the models it used to project ambient air concentrations of ozone. That’s suspicious, because 2006 just so happens to be the second worst year of Colorado wildfires on record.
According to the 2015 and 2020 Ozone Projections for the Denver Area (p1-4), “For the 2015 and 2020 modeling, both biogenic and fire emissions were held constant at 2006 levels, and were the same as what was used for Denver ozone state implementation plan 2006 and 2010 modeling.” Yet the report doesn’t note that 2006 was an anomalous year for wildfires. I wonder why not? It’s certainly germane, because the scientific literature demonstrates that more wildfires mean more ozone and more ozone precursors.