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Fertilizer Dump Spoils Intel's Pure Water 211

An anonymous reader writes "Intel had to shut down part of its Irish plant for a while because of the extreme cold and the fact the local council polluted the water supply with fertilizer. Apparently it got down to -12 degrees C at the Intel plant in Leixlip, County Kildare. But to make matters worse, the local council ran out of rock salt to grit the roads and opted for fertilizer instead. There were fears that ammonia and nitrates in the fertilizer might have contaminated the local water supply. The problem for the chipmaker is that it needs extremely pure water for its manufacturing processes."
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Fertilizer Dump Spoils Intel's Pure Water

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @06:36AM (#30960942)

    Wow, something like this get's modded Insightful?! Do you think only morons work at Intel? You just can't filter everything.

  • by Seth Kriticos ( 1227934 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:23AM (#30961102)

    Distillation only removes sediments (mostly). You don't get rid of evaporating chemicals that easy, you'd actually have to use refining distillation combined with reverse osmosis filtering to get clean water. And that gets slow and expensive fast.

  • by sjwest ( 948274 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:29AM (#30961126)

    A book (isbn: 9781846270697) about waste water will tell you that Irelands sewage and water distribution systems are sub par, a couple of years ago the Irish in some areas where having to boil there water to remove bugs.

    Ireland might be a tax free paradise for american corps, but investment in the basics like water treatment leaves much to be desired.

    No surprises here that it got shutdown.

  • by aepervius ( 535155 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:31AM (#30961134)
    rock salts can go down to -12 or something If I recall correctly, whereas afterward you have to use other type of salt (potassium or calcium chlorid?) which go down to -22C.
  • by linuxrocks123 ( 905424 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:00AM (#30961248) Homepage Journal

    Regarding southern U.S. states, the ones I've lived in actually have a fairly moderate sales tax. Illinois and California have much higher sales tax rates than Texas, for instance, and they have state income taxes to boot. Yes, you need taxes for civilization, but efficiency in the use of tax dollars plays a role in how steep the taxes need to be.

  • by Sique ( 173459 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:03AM (#30961264) Homepage

    No, salt can be easily removed from water by distilling. But some organic matter has a boiling point at around the same temperature than water and thus is not removed by a simple distilling process.

  • by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:03AM (#30961266) Homepage

    Have materially lower living standards (like Ireland)

    Would you mind clarifying exactly what you mean by that comment? According to this, Ireland [] is in the top ten places in the world in terms of standard of living, and was selected as the happiest place on earth by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2005.

  • by braindump ( 4788 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:07AM (#30961278) Homepage
    I just don't get this. Chip fabs don't filter water, they force it through reverse osmosis, and then deionize it. It doesn't matter what's in the water to begin with, after that process is complete, there's absolutely nothing left. This story therefore, makes no sense.
  • by bigdaisy ( 30400 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:09AM (#30961292)

    You are closer to the truth than you think: the fertilizer they were spreading was actually urea []!

  • Beer & Whiskey (Score:1, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:10AM (#30961522)

    This is why Beer was the drink of choice for so long. People drank beer day and night because... The water wasn't safe to drink.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:19AM (#30961568)

    RO is just one step of many to make Ultra Pure Water - Urea has been a problem in semiconductor fabs for a long time - enough can sneak through the reverse osmosis, electrodeionization, ion exchange, etc, to get incorporated in the photoresist, which then breaks down under the UV light when it gets exposed, and splits into two ammonia molecules, which shifts the pH and causes under cutting of the photoresist. Intel in Portland OR added a few million dollars of processing equipment to react out the urea before it can cause a problem.

    How do I know all of this? I make 20,000 gallons per day of Nano-Research grade water, which is even purer than semiconductor fab water. Which means I hang out with the all the ultrapure water people from Intel, TI, AMD, IBM, etc

    Urea contamination is old news........

  • by Silvrmane ( 773720 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:29AM (#30961620) Homepage
    100% pure water will do no harm to you, whatsoever. Or your gut bacteria. I'm not sure how this meme got started, but it is not only wrong, but indicative of a confusion of ideas that makes me doubt the rationality of anyone who espouses it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:02AM (#30961826)

    Uh, wrong.

    Heard of Hold Your Wee for a Wii [], perhaps? Matt Carringon []? Water intoxication []?

    The body needs certain electrolytes to be in a certain balance to function. Drinking 100% pure water in sufficient quantities, without consuming anything else, will cause that balance to be disrupted, and death will result.

    In the sort of doses that you'd typically drink, sure, 100% pure water is fine. But drunk to excess, it's lethal (as is regular drinking water, to be fair.) Like anything, really. Oxygen? Yup. You name it, it's lethal if you consume too much. []

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:09AM (#30961862)

    From: []

    Reductio ad absurdum (Latin: "reduction to the absurd") is a form of argument in which a proposition is disproven by following its implications to a logical but absurd consequence.

  • by HappySmileMan ( 1088123 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:28AM (#30961994)

    Places with "low taxes" either:

    1. Have a higher, hidden tax burden (like southern US states with their high, regressive sales taxes)
    2. Have materially lower living standards (like Ireland)

    You can't get a modern civilization for pennies on the dollar.

    Ireland doesn't have much lower taxes than elsewhere, income tax and VAT are quite average I believe, there's a very high tax on alcohol and cigarettes (Seriously, look at the prices of these here if you don't believe me, I doubt you'll find somewhere more expensive to drink and smoke in without some effort), as is, IIRC, tax on petrol.
    It's only really corporations that pay low tax, and it's made up for in many ways.

    Also lower living standards? What the fuck comes to your mind when you think of Ireland, people living in mud houses rationing their years supply of potatoes and poitín?
    I'm sitting here in an apartment 50% paid for by the government, getting free 3rd level education (apart from a registration fee, which gets refunded to me by the government), and just waiting for my second of 3 cheques for over €1,000 from the government for simply going to college while not being rich.
    By what definition is this "lower living standards"?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:48AM (#30962142)

    Drinking truly 100% water I.e. deionized water is semi toxic. Water is a natural solvent and having no solute in it means it will reach for anything surrounding it and try to pull it into it's matrix. It screws your cell's osmotic pressure and really fucks over your electrolyte balance. A few glasses It may not kill you but it is harmful, and drinking to much can cause your mussels to cramp up and spasm (including your cardiac mussels).

  • by BigDukeSix ( 832501 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @11:28AM (#30962448)
    Your statement is true for pure water instilled directly into the bloodstream, but not for ingested water. The human digestive system is a polymer (poly-phospholipid) lined tube that is impervious to water absorption. Water and ions have separate transport mechanisms that allow them to be absorbed in specific parts of the intestines. If you drink a sufficient amount of any fluid which is not a balanced salt solution, you will eventually throw yourself into an electrolyte imbalance state.

    The fluid which eventually reaches the gut bacteria has a ton of secretions in it, from the salivary glands all the way down to the liver and pancreas, and bears no resemblance to the originally swallowed fluid. As such makes no physiological sense that drinking pure water is toxic to the beneficial gut bacteria (any more so than drinking whiskey).
  • by jbengt ( 874751 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:28PM (#30962916)
    Around here it commonly gets colder than 0F (-18C) and they use salt to good effect. True, sodium chloride doesn't work that good below about 15F (-9C), but if you can afford it, calcium chloride suppresses freezing at least down to -20F (-29C).
    And fertilizer (ammonium) actually works down to about 20F (-7C)
    see more here []

    In practice, a combination of plowing, very high sodium chloride levels, and the action of rolling tires can make roads fairly safe to drive even below 0F.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @12:58PM (#30963210)

    I work on this site and here's what really happened. Ireland, especially the Dublin area had a 1 in 100 year event, with the lowest ever recorded temperatures, that lasted for over 3 weeks. As road salt was running short all over the country (and across Europe) and it was getting hard to get deliveries into the country, Kildare County Council switched to spraying urea on the roads instead of just rock salt.

    Levels of Ammonia in the local water supply shot up, especially as the water reserves are way below normal (our drinking water at home, 5 miles from the plant, has been shut off every night for 12 hours since 7th Jan). Our systems were not prepared for this as it was such an unlikely event and for a period of several days we were unable to use the local water supply. The levels in the water did not make it unsafe to drink at all, we were unable to purify enough for use in our oldest factory (over 15 years old). The other 2 fabs on site were not affected. We brought water in via tanker until our off-site testing confirmed that it was once more safe for use.

    Quite how this becomes news is beyond me, we dealt with it as an internal matter, laid no blame on the council as it was such an unexpected event, and made no public statements as we didn't want to cause a fuss. I guess someone else did want to rant on about it though...

    And yes, I'm posting anonymously because I'm not authorised to speak for the company...

  • by NeutronCowboy ( 896098 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:37PM (#30963618)

    You're right, technically. Distilled water won't directly harm you. There is no mechanism by which H20 disrupts body functions directly (disregard blocking O2 absorption in the lungs for a second). What happens though is that pretty much every membrane in your body is porous for ions and minerals. If you drink nothing but distilled water for an extended period, you're losing minerals through osmosis very quickly. The first effect is that your neural system starts to act up, because Potassium and other ions used in signal transmission become less and less available. That's why it's a bad idea to use snow as a source of drinking water without adding anything to it, or making sure that your diet supplements the extra ions and minerals needed.

  • by temojen ( 678985 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @02:25PM (#30964146) Journal

    This is based on the assumption that you're not ingesting any ions in the food you eat. That would pretty much require a diet of pure paper or complete fasting. Anything that was once alive and hasn't been completely purified (paper or pure gelatine) is going to have some sodium, potassium, and calcium.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @03:07PM (#30964472)
    Somebody has forgotten about fractional distillation, which separates everything except azeotropes. Those need to be separated by adding another solvent to the still to "catch" the other solvent, so the third solvent can escape the first one. "There was an old woman who swallowed a bird, How absurd! to swallow a bird, She swallowed the bird to catch the spider, That wriggled and jiggled and tickled inside her, She swallowed the spider to catch the fly, I don't know why she swallowed the fly, Perhaps she'll die."
  • by rah1420 ( 234198 ) <> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @03:24PM (#30964590)

    Maybe there's more to this story, but it'll end up being something rather mundane.

    I worked for a time at a chip fab in Allentown PA [] and they were slavish about the use of only sand to lay down over icy walkways in the winter. The least amount of urea or sand was said to 'poison' the chips despite the mammoth water filtration system in the basement.

    The contamination they're worried about is not from process water, I would wager.

  • by Chuck_McDevitt ( 665265 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @03:42PM (#30964758) Homepage
    It doesn't work due to aziotropism. For example, if you have ethanol and water mixed, no amount of distilation can ever completely separate them.
  • by MattskEE ( 925706 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @05:06PM (#30965470)

    Since you didn't cite anything, I will do so from the first Google result. From []

    Low levels (less than 1 part per million [ppm] or 1,000 parts per billion [ppb]) of VOCs were detected in ground water at two Intel facilities
    (Santa Clara 3 and Magnetics) and more significant levels were detected at a third facility (Mountain View "Lot 3"). Since these discoveries, Intel has very aggressively cleaned up these sites. By early 1986, all site source areas had been removed and ground water extraction and treatment systems (GWETS) had been installed and were operating to cleanup and contain residual VOCs in ground water.

    Your inflammatory rhetoric does not seem to be backed up, as the pollution sounds small (though extant), and Intel has actively participated in the cleanup. Did you have any actual information to support your assertion?

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