Making toxic or problematic materials safe

THESSALONIKI – Five laboratories of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, with modern equipment and scientists from various fields, have been transforming hazardous waste into useful materials. They thus not only neutralize the effects of industrial waste on the environment, but also offer industries a profitable solution to their most important problem. Lead-containing sludge from the residue of refinery tanks can, after being suitably processed, be rendered into harmless floor tiles, while mounds of marble dust can turn into top-quality glass. The pioneering methods for the management of toxic waste were presented at a recent meeting of the Network for the Management of Solid Industrial Waste, which was set up by the University of Thessaloniki and is supported by the Research Committee. (The network includes five laboratories from the departments of Physics and Chemistry.) «Due to the pressure on industry from national and European legislation, as well as society, to deal with the problem of waste disposal, a sustainable solution adapted to the situation in Greece is urgently needed,» said the network’s representatives. In a recent pilot scheme at a Thessaloniki factory, quantities of sludge from old leaded-petrol tanks were transformed through heat and chemical processes into an exceptionally tough, glass-like material which traps the toxic element inside it for the next 500 years. «This material can be used in roads, on large quays and as a construction material in large buildings. It was also tested at very high temperatures and was found to be absolutely safe,» Assistant Professor of Physics Thanassis Kehagias told Kathimerini. Research is also being conducted into neutralizing mercury from large steelworks and on non-toxic materials that, when dumped, pose environmental problems, such as marble dust in the prefecture of Drama. When processed, it produces a glass that is four times harder than marble. Glassworks could thus be built next to every marble factory, researchers pointed out. Mussel shells at mussel farms could be similarly treated. Barriers to the implementation of these methods lie not so much in economic factors as in the trouble industries have in «accepting that they produce hazardous solid waste and that something has to be done about it,» scientists said. The Federation of Industries of Northern Greece (SVVE), which has set up a working group on the environment, is heavily involved, and the Northern Greece Private Infrastructure Corporation is also taking part in the EU’s LIFE program for the environment. SVVE consultant A. Ladenis points to this as proof of how important the question of waste reduction is for companies in the region. SVVE hopes to set up an environmental helpline which will both record the problem and facilitate the search for and invention of the most economic solution.