WALTHAM, MASS. - A Wal-tham company that specializes in disposal of hazardous wastes may have the answer to problems with chlorinated plastics. Metal.
Molten Metal Technology Inc. has developed technology it claims can break down chlorine-containing plastic waste, such as PVC, into harmless components without burning it and without creating toxic emissions such as dioxin.
Michele Perry, a company spokeswoman, said the firm is building three commercial-sized plants to employ the technology and has three commercial-scale and 10 bench-scale systems in its 86,000-square-foot plant in Fall River, Mass.
``The system is really fairly simple,'' she said. ``It is a completely sealed system, so there are no emissions, and the component elements of the waste can be sold for other uses,'' she said.
Catalytic Extraction Processing, as the firm calls its process, involves immersing the chlorinated plastic, or other hazardous chemical wastes, in a bath of molten metal. The metal is heated in a sealed system to about 3,000§ F, which dissolves molecular bonds and leaves disassociated elements.
By adding chemical reactants, such as lime, the elements are reconfigured into commodity gases, ceramics and metal alloys that can be sold into regular markets. The company claims the process can safely handle everything from chemical solvents and ground-up computer equipment to low-level radioactive waste.
``The gases, we call them syngas, are used in the creation of more chemicals, such as methanol, ammonia, acetic acid, fuel additives and synthetic fuels,'' said Barbara McWeeney, director of marketing for the company.
``The ceramics are used in abrasives and concrete and roofing materials, and the metals are useful for alloys and treated metals like stainless steel,'' McWeeney said.
Since the process destroys hazardous and toxic compounds, it exceeds regulatory standards for emissions and residuals. And, since it does not burn the wastes, there is no creation of harmful substances such as dioxin, according to the company.
Dioxin, a carcinogen, has been linked in some studies to the burning of chlorinated products such as PVC.
John DeVillers, administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the New England region, said he is familiar with the technology, and is enthusiastic about its potential.
``The Molten Metals technology is one of the most promising in the field in the last two decades,'' he said. ``Given the cost of cleanups, the best hope for environmental responsibility in the area of hazardous and toxic wastes is through new technology. This is a welcome advance.''
McWeeney said the process can save as much as 50 percent of the cost of incineration, depending on the materials being handled.
In October 1994, the Environmental Protection Agency approved the process in its Best Demonstrated Available Technology category, which qualifies the firm to process 90 percent of the EPA-controlled wastes for which incineration formerly was the only approved disposal method.
The firm is building a CEP system in partnership with Westinghouse Corp. in Oak Ridge, Tenn., to process low-level radioactive wastes.
Another Oak Ridge system it plans is M4 Environmental Inc., a partnership with Lockheed Martin Corp. and the Department of Energy to process combined hazardous and low-level radioactive wastes.
A third plant in Bay City, Texas, will be constructed in partnership with Hoechst Celanese Corp. to process chlorinated materials.
The three facilities are scheduled to be in operation later this year or in early 1996.