The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is looking into a plan to recycle the residue of semiconductor production at IBM Corporation’s East Fishkill plant into cement.
IBM proposes to send electroplating sludge from microchip manufacturing processes to a cement kiln where it would become part of the cement. Lime is a major component in the sludge and would reduce the cement makers’ need for quarrying new lime. However, the sludge also contains small amounts of cadmium, lead, chromium and other minerals and is considered a form of hazardous waste by the EPA. As a result, it must be disposed of by registered specialists – for IBM this means an annual cost of around US$120,000.
IBM applied to the EPA to be granted permission for the project within the framework of Project XL, a search to find 50 experimental projects to explore ways to “achieve cleaner and cheaper environmental results" than conventional regulations, programmes, policies and procedures would. Under the programme, companies would be exempted from the usual federal rules.
Environmental groups and hazardous waste treatment companies have expressed their concern about the move, citing harm to affected communities as the actual destination of the toxic waste is not sufficiently identified and leaching of the toxic components may occur.