Musings, politics and environmental issues

Archive for March, 2017

Arsenic released from United Silicon smelter

The United Silicon fiasco continues. Now, recordings from a monitoring station in the nearby town of Reykjanesbaer, about one kilometre from the United Silicon smelter, show high concentrations of arsenic. The EIA for the smelter stated that arsenic would be released in small quantities, 0.32 ng per cubic metre, but figures as high as 6.9 ng/m3 have been recorded. Note that the environmental limit for arsenic is 6.0 ng/m3, measured over a year, and that arsenic is a carcinogen that is implicated in both lung and skin cancers. Besides arsenic, 16 different PAH compounds, 6 other heavy metals and sulphur were detected, but these are not expected to cause health problems.

The Environment Agency are about to look for a company to carry out an engineering appraisal of the design and management of the plant and reiterate that only one furnace must be in operation – the original intention was to have four furnaces eventually. The company protested, but the Agency is adamant.

Reykjanesbaer council members have also had enough. Although they stood up for the plant at the residents’ meeting in December, now the mayor  – who has been inundated with complaints since the start-up – says that the plant should be closed. Two other council members are also calling for the plant’s closure.

Remember that there is supposed to be another silicon plant set up by Thorsil, opposite the United Silicon plant. The operating licence for that was appealed late last year, granted with provisos and has now been appealed again, on the grounds that the synergistic effect of the two silicon smelters was not done.


UPDATE: It appears that the high arsenic levels resulted from some sort of sampling irregularity. The council are no longer calling for closure of the plant – though many problems still persist.

Colossal increase in greenhouse gases in Iceland

The emission of greenhouse gases in Iceland rose by 26% between 1990 and 2015 and amounted to 4.6 million tonnes in 2014. At the same time, there was a 24% decrease for the same time period in the EU as a whole. On a per capita basis, this is equivalent to 14 tonnes of CO2 equivalents compared to 7.4 tonnes for the EU. According to a detailed report published in Icelandic by the Institute of Economic Studies last month, emissions could increase by 53-99% by 2030 or by 33-79%, if carbon sequestration by forestry and land restoration are taken into account.

These figures were the subject of debate in the Icelandic parliament yesterday, along with measures to be taken to reduce them. The Environment Minister’s report, which was basically an abridged form of the IES report and again is in Icelandic, was well received by all parties.

The high increase from 1990 is predominantly due to new aluminium smelters and other heavy industry, while new silicon metal plants and projected increases in aluminium production account for future uncertainties. Although emissions from these will come under the Emissions Trading System, they will still have an effect on the environment. Currently, 80% of electricity in Iceland is used by aluminium smelters and other heavy industry.

The policy statement of the new Icelandic government stated that they would prepare an Action Plan in line with the Paris Agreement (Iceland did not prepare one for COP21, but instead lumped themselves under the EU objectives, under something called “part of the collective delivery”). The Action Plan will include green incentives, forestry, land restoration and renewable energy in transport. However, the IES report includes around 30 measures with varying degrees of feasibility.

Iceland is known for deriving virtually all of its energy for domestic heating and electricity from renewable sources. Clearly, more needs to be done if it is to obtain its goals for 2020 and beyond.

Note that a version of this was published by ENDS Europe today.