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Solar Industry Grapples With Hazardous Wastes

Before the company went bankrupt, leading to increased scrutiny of the solar industry and political fallout for President Barack Obama's administration, Solyndra said it created 100 megawatts-worth of solar panels, enough to power 100,000 homes.

The records also show several other Silicon Valley solar facilities created millions of pounds of toxic waste without selling a single solar panel, while they were developing their technology or fine-tuning their production.

While much of the waste produced is considered toxic, there was no evidence it has harmed human health.

The vast majority of solar companies that generated hazardous waste in California have not been cited for waste-related pollution violations, although three had minor violations on file.

In many cases, a toxic sludge is created when metals and other toxins are removed from water used in the manufacturing process. If a company doesn't have its own treatment equipment, then it will send contaminated water to be stored at an approved dump.

According to scientists who conduct so-called "life cycle analysis" for solar, the transport of waste is not currently being factored into the carbon footprint score, which measures the amount of greenhouse gases produced when making a product.

Life cycle analysts add up all the global warming pollution that goes into making a certain product â¿¿ from the mining needed for components to the exhaust from diesel trucks used to transport waste and materials. Not factoring the hazardous waste transport into solar's carbon footprint is an obvious oversight, analysts said.

"The greenhouse gas emissions associated with transporting this waste is not insignificant," Mulvaney said.

Mulvaney noted that shipping, for example, 6.2 million pounds of waste by heavy-duty tractor-trailer from Fremont, Calif., in the San Francisco Bay area, to a site 1,800 miles away could add 5% to a particular product's carbon footprint.

Such scores are important because they provide transparency to government and consumers into just how environmentally sustainable specific products are and lay out a choice between one company's technology and another's.

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