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Solyndra Not Dealing With Toxic Waste At Milpitas Facility

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Solyndra Headquarters in Fremont (Solyndra Inc.)

Solyndra Headquarters in Fremont (Solyndra Inc.)

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MILPITAS (CBS 5) — Three months ago, CBS 5 caught Solyndra tossing millions of dollars worth of brand new glass tubes used to make solar panels. Now the bankrupt solar firm, once touted as a symbol of green technology, may be trying to abandon toxic waste.

It’s a tedious process. Slowly but surely, the shattered remains of brand new solar panel tubes head to a recycling plant in Hayward.

Meanwhile the next phase of the company’s liquidation is under way. It involves getting rid of all the heavy metals left inside the building that were used to make the panels.

The Fremont Fire Department’s Jay Swardenski oversees the cleanup. He said some materials, such as cadmium, are toxic, and hard to dispose of.

“They don’t degrade at all, so we want to make sure we don’t allow these materials to get into the environment,” he said.

It’s not just the leftover hazardous materials, but also the machinery used to apply them to the glass tubes. “Certainly those tools will need to be decontaminated, cleaned up, handled correctly as they are taken apart,” he said.

Swardenski told CBS 5 the disposal process is going smoothly in Fremont, but what about nearby Milpitas? Solyndra leased a building on California Circle for the final assembly of its solar panels. But the cleanup at the leased building in Milpitas is in limbo, because Solyndra doesn’t want to pay.

CBS 5 found the building locked up, with no one around. At the back, a hazardous storage area was found. There were discarded buckets half filled with liquids and barrels labeled “hazardous waste.”

The building’s owner, a company called iStar, claimed in court documents, “there may be serious environmental, health and safety issues” at the premises. According to the documents, they include, “numerous containers of solvents and chemicals…and processing equipment contaminated with lead.”

“Essentially it looks like they left a pretty big mess behind,” San Jose State Assistant Professor Dustin Mulvaney told CBS 5. Mulvaney has written a white paper (.pdf) on solar industry waste for the Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition.

Looking at CBS 5’s video, Mulvaney said it’s hard to tell how much hazardous waste is at the Milpitas facility. But he said one thing is for sure.

“Materials labeled hazardous waste require a lot more protocol, so its actually a lot more expensive to clean,” Mulvaney said. “It’s very sad looking at this facility taken apart like this, because a lot of money went into building this.”

Swardenski feels the same way. “It is hard. They are beautiful buildings; there was a lot of effort put into them. But we’ll work as hard to pout them back into productive use,” he said.

CBS 5 asked both Solyndra and iStar for comment on this story. But as of the original airdate, neither company has replied.

(Copyright 2012 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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