Do solar panels leach toxic chemicals?

It's important to remember that some types and brands of solar panels are hazardous waste, while others are not. The following are some panels that contain or may contain toxic material. CdTe solar panels can be hazardous due to cadmium. Gallium arsenide (GaAs) panels can be hazardous because of arsenic.

Solar panels often contain lead, cadmium and other toxic chemicals that cannot be removed without breaking the entire panel. Common problematic impurities in glass include plastics, lead, cadmium and antimony. According to cancer biologist David H. Nguyen, PhD, toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper and indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di), cadmium selenide (di), cadmium selenide (di), selenide, hexafluoroethane, lead and polyvinyl fluoride.

Silicon tetrachloride, a byproduct of crystalline silicon production, is also highly toxic. The amount of “chemicals” in solar panels is miniscule. For example, a typical solar panel has about half as much lead (used as solder) than a single shotgun shell, and a single battery used in a car or farm equipment has more lead than 700 solar panels. An Ohio manufacturer uses a semiconductive layer of cadmium telluride in its solar panels that is only 3% the thickness of a human hair.

These countries mass-produce “clean energy” solar panels, but they don't regulate how toxic waste is dumped into the environment. In the manufacturing process, certain chemicals are used to prepare silicon and manufacture the wafers for monocrystalline and polycrystalline panels. Wise leaders in the solar industry can learn from the past and be proactive in seeking stricter regulation, in line with growing scientific evidence that solar panels pose a risk of toxic chemical contamination. Maybe so, but nowadays recycling costs more than the economic value of recovered materials, which is why most solar panels end up in landfills.

By 2030, the United States is expected to have up to one million total tons of solar panel waste. For more information on these and other solar panel waste projections, visit the International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) report on the management of end-of-life solar panels. An obvious solution would be to impose a new tariff on solar panels that would go to a federal fund for disposal and dismantling. Harvey Solar works diligently to provide accurate and well-examined information on solar energy, the Project and its potential impacts on the Hartford Township community.

However, about 70 percent of the modules were actually sent for recycling, and recycled metals are found in new panels today. In recent years, there has been increased concern about what happens to solar panels at the end of their useful life. Just as it is wrong to assume that water can burn because hydrogen burns, it is not valid to treat CdTe as if it were as toxic as Cd. By 2050, the United States is expected to have the second highest number of end-of-life panels in the world, with an estimated total of 10 million tons of panels.

Toxic chemicals are a problem at the beginning of a solar panel's lifespan (during construction) and at the end of its useful life when it is discarded.