Berkeley Lab

Materials Selection in the Circular Economy: Choosing Safer Alternatives

By Francesca Toma

A talk by Julie Schoenung, Professor and Chair of the Department of Materials Science at University of California, Irvine

Prof. Schoenung talked about hazards and safety data sheets and the need of protect ourselves. Safety data sheets are self-reported and there exist concerns about how accurately companies report data. NIOSH is the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, and it is a Center for Disease and Control Prevention database which offers more accurate information on hazards and exposure to chemicals. TRI (Toxics Release Inventory) is instead a more technical list that reports fact sheets on chemical compounds in addition to providing data on production-related waste, what the chemical is used for, and the hazard information.

How do hazards and safety connect to circular economy? As an example, lead-acid battery recycling in our cars is processed oversea. However, outside of LA there was a recycling infrastructure that was shut-down. People in the area are now exposed to arsenic, cadmium, and lead and cannot get protected. For example, in the lead-acid battery recycling process arsenic is used and released in the air as potential carginogenic agent. If only lead, arsenic, and cadmium were not used, we would not have these problems. However, we still use lead and getting rid of the lead-acid batteries in our cars seem now impossible. The State of California has been looking at finding alternatives to lead-acid batteries. We need to do better as materials scientists and try hard to find alternatives. The best cure is to prevent use of lead and not to treat its consequences.

See related blog post: Panel Discussion with Materials Discovery and Design to Enable a Circular Materials Economy