Electric arc furnaces (EAF) are frequently used in the scrap metal industry. When improperly treated, the dust they produce causes heavy metal contamination in soil and underground water, and can release dioxins into the air.
To ensure companies follow EAF dust regulations, the Environmental Protection Administration’s (EPA) southern inspection squad last year formed a special team and discovered 40 cases in which businesses failed to follow EAF dust regulations.
“EAF dust is what is left over when scrap metal is heated to extremely high temperatures [up to 1,800ºC] to reclaim the metal that is needed,” southern inspection squad director Lee Chien-te (李建德) said.
“For example, say you are trying to extract steel from scrap metal, but your scrap also contains bits of zinc, lead, mercury or plastic — the chloride [from plastic], mercury, zinc and lead vaporizes and once the steel has been taken away, the oxidized zinc, lead and dioxins [resulting from the burning plastic] are oxidized and cooled in the extractive air flow and mixed into a resulting dust,” Lee said.
The dust is collected by environmental protection facilities in the factories for further processing, Lee said.
While aluminum EAF dust is generally benign and can be processed in regular landfills, steel and iron dust is mostly toxic and needs to go through a more complex treatment process — such as solidifying the dust into blocks and placing them in landfills designated for harmful substances, he said.
However, not every factory that produces toxic dust complies with the regulations, as the process costs more than processing regular waste, Lee said.
“We targeted factories that make secondary metals and found 40 cases where the dust was not treated properly. While some of it was aluminum dust, some was steel or iron,” Lee said.
While no cases were found where businesses directly deposited the dust into the soil, Lee said some businesses left toxic substances exposed.
He said with time, oxidized heavy metals would ooze out and find their way into the soil and underground water.
“This year, we will continue to tackle illegal treatment of EAF dust and we hope that all businesses will shoulder their responsibility to the environment and honestly report on their EAF dust. Those who fail to do so will face heavy fines,” Lee said.
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