Solar panels may be an appealing choice for clean energy, but they harbor their share of toxic chemicals. The toxic chemicals are a problem at the beginning of a solar panel's life -- during its construction -- and at the end of its life when it is disposed of. These two windows are times when the toxic chemicals can be released into the environment. The toxic chemicals in solar panels include cadmium telluride, copper indium selenide, cadmium gallium (di)selenide, copper indium gallium (di)selenide, hexafluoroethane, lead, polyvinyl fluoride and crystalline silicon. Additionally, silicon tetrachloride, a byproduct of producing crystalline silicon, is highly toxic.
Cadmium telluride is a highly toxic chemical that is part of solar panels. The journal “Progress in Photovoltaics” reported a study of CT on rats. Both male and females that received CT through ingestion did not gain weight as they normally should have. This lack of weight gain was observed at low, moderate and high doses. When inhaled into the lungs, CT also prevented normal weight gain and caused lung inflammation and lung fibrosis, which is a hardening of lung tissue. From low to high doses of inhaled CT, the weight of the lungs increased. At moderate to high doses of inhaled CT, death was observed.
Copper Indium Selenide
The study of rats in “Progress in Photovoltaics” showed that ingestion of moderate to high doses of copper indium selenide prevented weight gain in females but not males. Moderate to high doses of inhaled CIS increased the weight of a rat’s lungs and increased lung fibrosis. Lungs exposed to CIS produced high amounts of fluid. At the doses studied, death was not observed. Another study of CIS on rats, reported in “Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology,” revealed that inhaling CIS caused rats to develop abnormal growths in their lungs.
Cadmium Indium Gallium (Di)selenide
Cadmium indium gallium (di)selenide is another chemical in solar panels that is toxic to lungs. The “Journal of Occupational Health” reported a study in which CIGS was injected into the trachea, or airway, of rats. Rats were treated with CIGS three times a week for one week, and then lung tissue was examined until three weeks after that. The scientists used a low, moderate and high dose of CIGS. All doses resulted in lungs that had spots that were inflamed, meaning they were damaged. Lungs also had spots that produced excessive fluid. These spots got worse as time went on after the one week of exposure.
One of the toxic chemicals of concern regarding solar panels is not what’s in the panels but what is produced in the making of the panels. Crystalline silicon is a common component of solar panels. The process of making crystalline silicon produces a byproduct called silicon tetrachloride. Silicon tetrachloride is highly toxic, killing plants and animals. Such environmental pollutants, which harm people, are a major problem for people in countries such as China. Those countries mass-produce “clean energy” solar panels but do not regulate how toxic waste is dumped into the environment. The country’s inhabitants often pay the price.