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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

New York Canal Sludge Could Be Recycled into Glass Building Blocks

Trish Smith

by The Green Groove

A process that transforms toxic sludge into glass building blocks could be used to clean New York’s Gowanus Canal.

Image: nytimes

The Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn, New York has recently become a designated Superfund site for the E.P.A. What is a Superfund? It’s a federal government program whose goal is to clean up the most contaminated and hazardous waste sites in the nation. With over 300,000 cubic yards of sludge oozing from the Gowanus Canal, it would take the E.P.A. a decade to completely clean it. However, there is one option that could clean the canal and turn the nasty sludge into something useful: it’s called vitrification.

Simply put, vitrification is the process of turning a substance into glass. According to an article in Popular Mechanics, the E.P.A. is considering vitrification to turn the ooze from the canal into “washing machine-sized glass cubes.” Here’s how it would work:

  • The sludge is collected and placed into metal molds.
  • The molds are heated in temperatures of up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to kill any organic matter.
  • A filter catches any harmful emissions.
  • The heat causes any silica or sand in the ooze to bind with metals and create a transparent glass block.
These glass building blocks are completely safe and are resistant to corrosion. They become perfect building material to be used in construction and sculptures. Thus, the ultimate way to recycle sludge!

Image: thefamilystore

There is one drawback to the process of vitrification. It costs a pretty penny to turn sludge into glass, so the E.P.A. is conducting studies at various nuclear waste sites in the U.S. to see if it’s a good idea. If it deems too expensive, some other options for cleaning the Gowanus Canal are to ship the sludge to a landfill or to lay clay over the canal to encase the contaminants.

So what do you think? Glass cubes made from recycled sludge: good or bad idea?