Op Ed

Foxconn Will Be Major Source of Pollution

A scientist analyses the impact of the mega-plant.

By - Jul 9th, 2018 04:06 pm
Design for Foxconn's campus. Photo from the WEDC.

Design for Foxconn’s campus. Photo from the WEDC.

Sustainable development meets the needs of this generation without compromising the opportunity of future generations (our children). Historically, humanity has given little thought to sustainability because Earth seemed to offer an endless supply of food, water, and resources. But an increasing population and technological power have encroached on nature to the point that we are facing enormous environmental problems that compromise our future and that of our children.

The Foxconn deal follows our current path toward environmental degradation. It was pushed through state government with the explicit intention of ignoring environmental concerns. Most egregious, the company was permitted to bypass filing an environmental impact statement. In its absence, here are some pressing issues about the factory under construction in rural Racine County.

The project will take out of production and destroy some of the best farmland in Wisconsin at a time when feeding the world’s burgeoning population is becoming increasingly problematic. This will be an irreversible transformation; once subjected to intense industrial-chemical use, the land cannot be reclaimed for farming.

The facility depends on diverting millions of gallons water each day from Lake Michigan. The site lies outside the Lake Michigan watershed and alone cannot obtain lake water according to the international law (Great Lakes Compact) that was created to protect and regulate access to Great Lakes water. Racine County is attempting to break the compact for short-term economic gain. Should it succeed, the precedent will open the Great Lakes to the wholesale diversion of water and long-term environmental loss.

To produce flat screen monitors, many chemicals must be utilized. In the process, the plant will emit many pollutants, including nitrogen oxides, volatile organic chemicals (VOCs), particulates, carbon monoxide and greenhouse gases. According to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards, the factory will be designated a “major source” polluter of each of these contaminants. This stew of emissions makes Foxconn a uniquely troubling operation. Nitrogen oxides and VOCs combine in sunlight to produce harmful ozone; carbon monoxide prolongs its lifetime in the atmosphere. So, Foxconn emissions may be particularly efficient in producing ozone. Racine County is already a non-attainment area for ozone. In addition, particulates are important contributors to dangerous lung and cardiovascular diseases. Is there a health concern? Yes. Children in a number of nearby Racine and Kenosha schools are in the path of these pollutants.

Foxconn also will be a “major source” polluter of greenhouse gases, emitting more than 10 times the amount that triggers this designation. Considering the unfolding crisis of climate change, this level of discharge is irresponsible. Foxconn could have addressed its huge release of greenhouse gases with on-site installation and off-site investment in renewable energy generation. That did not happen.

The problems are compounded by Foxconn’s rural location. Miles from water, electricity, and adequate transportation, all this infrastructure must be specially constructed for the company. Everyone and everything must travel many miles along the expanded lanes of I-94 to reach the facility, with their vehicles emitting tons of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. The thought of integrating rail mass transit into the project was not considered despite the obvious benefits of reduced pollution and energy use and convenient access to the Foxconn plant for economically disadvantaged workers and supplies and products being transported to and from the factory.

The Foxconn project is billed as transformational for Wisconsin’s economy. But by 21st century environmental standards, it is out of date. The company recently announced that it will sponsor a contest to envision the future of “smart cities.” Another competition to plan an environmentally sound Foxconn would have been welcome.

David H. Petering is university distinguished professor of chemistry and biochemistry at the UW-Milwaukee. This column was originally published by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

10 thoughts on “Op Ed: Foxconn Will Be Major Source of Pollution”

  1. LenaTaylorNeedsToResign says:

    “The project will take out of production and destroy some of the best farmland in Wisconsin at a time when feeding the world’s burgeoning population is becoming increasingly problematic.”

    That one actually cracked me up laughing. Yeah, that must be why those farm commodity prices are soaring, right? The massive shortages? Has this guy ever flown in an airliner over the Midwest?

  2. mbradleyc says:

    I lived through the 60’s. I remember the way things were. This operation will be nothing like those days. It will be a model for the world of clean, environmentally sensitive manufacturing.

  3. SP says:

    I could barely stand to read this. By no means do I support foxconn 100% but please people, you talk about pollution and water usage like their building another Chicago in Racine. I’m sure once this place is built, the S/E Wisconsin region will still be more polluted by Chicago than anything else.
    Also farms are terrible for the environment and farmers get wild amounts of subsidies from the govt. so probably not the best comparison.
    Finally, if you want a story about a company destroying the environment, why don’t you focus on what Kohler is about to do in southern Sheboygan County. Literally destroying a park/wetland/nature preserve, for a golf course that will likely rely heavily on fertilizers that will leach into the lake because the course is right on the lake.

  4. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    O Baloney, another lying Lefty jumps into the pond.

  5. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    Lie number1:
    “Historically humans have given little thought to pollution”.
    We have millions, no billions more people in world and things get better every year despite the best efforts of the left to kill people, families and growth.
    The “Population Bomb” written by an entomologist was bomb. ZPG was stupid and wrong.
    They just have not been able to wipe out enough babies to make them happy.

  6. David Nelson says:

    A whole lot of cheap bourbon was consumed before writing the words above. Once the brain has been soaked long enough, aphasia and synesthesia may result. And by may, I mean has.

  7. David Nelson says:

    To clarify. The bourbon is redolent of the previous comments, not the article.

  8. Wisconsin Conservative Digest says:

    What is our number one problem in SE Wisconsin? Jobs for the kids, inner city. There are plenty of laws to limit, solve pollution.
    The last thing Foxconn wants at its factory, the new city, is to have people talking about something that can be solved. They have been implemented since I was a kid, but the Left fights jobs for families and kids???
    Why? They want to keep the people in bondage, so they vote for them, the corrupt city of Milwaukee and it’s apologists.

  9. Dennis says:

    Some of you righties are so short sighted. You only live in your own little world of now. This article does not say don’t build it, it says it could have been built better, friendlier to people and the environment. Would that have cost more? Most certainly in the short term but not in the longer term. And yes the extreme left would still complain but would be a small minority. As typical it’s all about profit now! Everything else is someone else’s fault and problem.

  10. PMD says:

    Too bad up to half of the jobs won’t go to Wisconsin residents.

    “But one estimate says 50 percent of the jobs may go to residents from other states.” https://www.reuters.com/article/us-foxconn-wisconsin-illinois/in-wake-of-foxconn-deal-wisconsin-and-illinois-vie-for-jobs-idUSKCN1B42DZ

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