Opinion: Let’s keep an open mind on Endicott plant

Your Turn
By David Loewen
Guest columnist


June 7, 2020. Press & Sun-Bulletin, Binghamton NY, Page 10A


Few would’ve imagined Endicott may soon be a hub for innovative green technology. Two new companies are making that possible.


SungEel is an international recycling company from Korea, and its Endicott Li-ion battery recycling facility will be the first in America. Imperium3, also on Huron’s campus, will be the first company to produce Li-ion batteries without cobalt. After years of industry abandoning Endicott, it seems fortune has returned.


Citizen group No Burn Broome opposes SungEel’s recycling facility over concerns of toxic emissions. Their concerns are understandable, prioritizing public health is correct. However, their position doesn’t consider the issue objectively.


According to No Burn Broome, the facility’s burner, operating at 1472 degrees Fahrenheit (800 degrees Celsius), will produce dioxins, a dangerous pollutant. Information from the National Institute of Health contradicts this, stating dioxins actually decompose at 800 C.


The plant preprocesses batteries through a kiln to begin material separation. In the kiln, dioxins are produced. In the afterburner, they’re destroyed. No Burn Broome fails to mention multiple other pollution controls covered under SungEel’s DEC permit.


Worries over PFAS emissions, another chemical, resulted in the DEC instructing SungEel to update their permit. In addition to the update, SungEel claims it will raise the afterburner temperature to 1,000 C. In theory, PFAS are destroyed at 1,000 C given sufficient time to burn, though the scientific community has yet to reach consensus on this technique.


In post-industrial America, pollutant exposure is an unfortunate reality. Dioxins and PFAS are both legacy chemicals, meaning they break down slowly and persist in the environment. Dioxin emissions have decreased by over 3000% since 1984, but people are still routinely exposed through their diet. Over 90% of dioxin exposure comes from food. Similarly, PFAS’ use in consumer materials like teflon is mostly phased out.


Still, the CDC detected PFAS in 98% of Americans’ blood, also partly from dietary sources. Controlling emissions is important, but emissions are not the main exposure route for these chemicals. Mismanaged disposal of material containing these chemicals guarantees future exposure, making proper disposal through scientifically researched methods fundamental.


Recycling Li-ion batteries has net positive effects. Replacing fossil fuels with Li-ion batteries is a promising way to reduce emissions and fight climate change. However, these lowered emissions are offset by wasteful methods of production.


Li-ion battery production is also a human-rights issue. Sixty percent of the world’s cobalt, a main component in Li-ion batteries, comes from Congolese mines. Workers there describe hellish, violent working conditions, and rely on crude intoxicants to drown their fears of death. Recycling reduces waste and reliance on brutal labor practices.


Ultimately, this is a golden opportunity for Endicott and Broome County. In 2022, the Li-ion battery market is projected to reach $70 billion value. Welcoming SungEel and Imperium3 to the Huron campus creates a unique opportunity to become a national leader in green technology.


Everyone must remain open-minded and transparent about the SungEel factory. A solution can be found which protects Broome County’s health while bolstering its economy and national reputation.


David Loewen is a Binghamton resident.


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