AJM: I think this section is too alarming without further context and work, I would remove this section and focus on "Understanding and Mitigating Risks" --or maybe re-title section to "Understanding Risks and Opportunities "

“Critical human health and environmental impact data are not well aggregated, organized or easily accessible for the solar industry, industrial communities and regulatory agencies.” 

—The JPB Foundation

In Buffalo-Niagara alone, the Tesla /Panasonic partnership is expected to create 3,300 new local jobs, with an economic impact of more than $250 million, all while reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 82,298 metric tons annually. Solar panels lower our reliance on fossil fuels, and help address the challenges we face with climate change.  

Link this with understanding risk and mitigation



Key areas of focus

From Raw Materials Through Decommissioning 

At CoRE, we are working to identify the hazards involved in each step of manufacturing solar panels, including:

1. Raw material extraction

Raw materials are sourced from around the world. The extraction (mining) and transportation of raw materials can have a negative impact on surrounding communities.

2. Synthesis of starting product

Manufacturing the materials used in solar cells produces a stream of hazardous waste. 

Producing one ton of polysilicon (used to manufacture solar panels) generates “at least four tons” of “highly toxic” silicon tetrachloride, according to an article in the Washington Post about a solar plant in China accused of dumping toxic waste next to a school playground

3. Manufacture of solar panels

The solar industry, like other electronic industries, relies on many well-known toxic chemicals. For solar, these include arsenic, cadmium telluride, gallium arsenide, hexafluoroethane, hydrofluoric acid, lead, and polyvinyl fluoride, putting frontline workers and communities at risk to toxic chemical exposure. These risks include:

  • Exposure to silicon dust as well as dust from copper, indium, gallium and selenium, all of which may pose inhalation hazards for workers
  • Exposure to cadmium, which is considered “extremely toxic” by the Environmental Protection Agency and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), potentially causing kidney, liver, bone, and blood damage
  • Exposure to selenium dioxide, which is a tissue poison like arsenic 

Establishing stricter protocols and providing equipment for personal protection can help minimize these risks.


4. Use of solar panels

Solar panels don’t last forever. They can leak heavy metals and acids as they degrade over time, and can also suffer performance issues due to erosion and other factors. If there is a fire, the panels can emit toxic fumes. One of our goals is providing 100% reliable encapsulation for solar cells, to help eliminate these risks.

5. Decommissioning

When solar panels lose their effectiveness (typically after 20+ years), they are decommissioned (taken out of service). Many of the toxic chemicals found in solar panels also put workers and communities at risk during this stage. Again, stricter protocols and protective equipment — as well as direct recuperation and recycling programs — could help mitigate these risks.

“We want to take the lessons learned from electronics and semiconductor industries (about pollution) and get ahead of some of these problems.”
- John Smirnow, Vice President for the Solar Energy Industries Association

The Human Impact of Toxic Chemicals

Around the globe, chemicals are linked to asthma, cancer and developmental disorders, among other ailments. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that 23% of deaths globally were attributable to environmental factors, including air and water pollution, and exposure to toxic chemicals. 

It’s no surprise then that the chemicals used in solar panels are linked to high levels of cancer, reproductive problems and other illnesses. For example, when a factory in China dumped a chemical byproduct of solar panel manufacturing near farmers’ fields, it destroyed crops and made villagers sick. At CoRE, one of our primary goals is to reduce or eliminate the use of toxic chemicals in solar panels.

In the electronics industry, a “lack of environmental planning and oversight resulted in widespread toxic chemical pollution contributing to premature death of workers and people living in industrial production communities.”
- Environmental Science and Technology

Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition (SVTC)

Toward a Just and Sustainable Solar Energy Industry — an overview of the health and safety issues faced by the solar industry — includes recommendations for a safe, sustainable and just solar energy industry. While this report was published in 2009, much of it is still relevant today.

> Read Toward a Just and Sustainable Solar Energy Industry


The Impact on Communities

Because solar panel manufacturers provide a significant number of jobs, industrial communities may not focus on the negative impact of factories. At CoRE, we are working to ensure that the solar industry has a positive affect on all aspects of a community, including lowering poverty levels, improving workforce development efforts, and minimizing any health risks to frontline workers and the community as a whole.

> Learn more about our goals


Meeting Global Standards

Businesses that want to sell to Europe and other key markets must also be aware of strict environmental standards for their products. For example, the European Union requires full lifecycle accountability for consumer electronic products by requiring manufacturers to take back their products at the end of life, meet recycling targets and restrict the use of high risk hazardous substances. While this directive does not apply to solar panels (yet), many of the substances that are used in solar production in the United States are banned in Europe.