Editor’s Note 1: This article was written before Hurricane Irma hit. But this article relates to all hurricane- and other storm-damaged structures.
Hurricane Harvey caused destruction and devastation throughout the neighborhoods of southeast Texas. Of course the first priority was making sure everyone was safe and had the basics to survive the storm. However, that is only the beginning of the challenges. Before they can start rebuilding, they need to remove all the flood-damaged materials.
We all saw news highlights of submerged vehicles and flooded homes. Piles of wreckage lined the streets. The Texas DMV estimates that over 500,000 vehicles were damaged by water, with most being total losses. Those cars will have to be scrapped and their metal recycled.
One news station reported that the “Texas Division of Emergency Management so far estimates a total of 185,149 homes in the Lone Star state have been damaged or destroyed by Harvey.” This means there will be more scrap metal resulting from ruined washers, dryers, air conditioners, refrigerators, and other appliances – along with carport roofs, fencing, windows, and other building materials.
When a hurricane hit in 2008, one scrap metal company reported a 30% increase in scrap metal recycling. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in 2005, it resulted in an influx of scrap that kept many recyclers busy for almost a year. It’s possible that the scrap metal industry in the Harvey hurricane area will see an even bigger increase in inventory after cleanup.
Scrap metal recyclers are going to have to sort and segregate metals more quickly and accurately, but they also must ensure they are correctly classifying their product. Sometimes scrap metal yards are the last stop before the metal gets to the foundries so even if their mountains of metal grow significantly higher, they must ensure that the alloys are identified correctly and the metal grade is confirmed or they will pay the price in penalties at the mill.
When the exact chemical composition of scrap is uncertain, quality, safety, and regulatory compliance are at risk. To help ensure product integrity, scrap metal operations rely on portable X-ray fluorescence (XRF) analyzers for accurate, reliable material identification.
XRF technology is a non-destructive analytical technique used to determine the elemental composition of materials. XRF analyzers determine the chemistry of a sample by measuring the fluorescent (or secondary) X-ray emitted from a sample when it is excited by a primary X-ray source. Each of the elements present in a sample produces a set of characteristic fluorescent X-rays (“a fingerprint”) that is unique for that specific element, which is why XRF spectroscopy is an excellent technology for qualitative and quantitative analysis of material composition.
XRF analyzers can verify elements of interest in virtually all types of metal alloys, from trace levels to commercially pure metals, and are capable of distinguishing alloy grades that are nearly identical in composition to one another. This aids sorting, and increases the speed of metal processing operations. (This video shows a metal recycler analyzing scrap and identifying stainless steel in two seconds.)
Another issue with scrap metal processing is that because much of it may be of unknown quality and origin, there is a possibility that it could be hazardous. Radioactive scrap metal threatens both the workers who handle it and consumers of products made with recycled scrap metal.
There are many ways contaminated metal can enter the scrap metal market undetected. Unregulated sources such as naturally occurring radioactive material (NORM) can contaminate pipes and other underground metal equipment. Building demolition can contain unknown or unreported radioactive sources which were once used in a production or research process. With the vast destruction that happened with Hurricane Harvey, piles of scrap could originate from anywhere and contain almost anything.
Scrap yards have two types of technology for monitoring this hazard that could invade their metal recycling facilities. There are automatic scrap monitoring systems that monitor vehicles entering the scrap yard, or processes within the facility, and provides accurate, reliable detection of radiation sources commonly found in scrap metal. With high performance and a low false alarm rate, the system rejects radioactive materials before they can harm people or the environment.
Another technology used is personal radiation detection for the workers. As the first point of contact with potentially radioactive metals, scrap recycling yard workers need instruments able to immediately detect, locate and identify radioactive material in their incoming scrap. They utilize pager sized Personal Radiation Detectors (PRD), which performs immediate nuclide identification, and help the user to separate threats from nuisance alarms. Worn on a belt holster for hands-free operation, these instruments enable scrap yard workers to perform their primary job responsibilities without interference or worry.
Hurricane Harvey caused enough worry; scrap metal workers don’t need any more.
Editor’s Note 2:
I’m proud to note that Thermo Fisher Scientific established a disaster relief campaign to support the Red Cross in their efforts to provide assistance to those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Included in the campaign was a company matching program. In addition employees around the globe collected and shipped non-perishable food and needed supplies to their affected colleagues in an effort to help out as much as possible.