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Intel News

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 Jane Q. Public ( 1010737 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @06:44AM (#30960978)
    Somebody did not consider the long-term consequences of their acts. Apparently, whether that was on the Intel or County Kildare side is currently unknown.

    But if they have to distill their water anyway, I don't see the problem. Unless the salts mess up their still.
  • by Masa ( 74401 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:05AM (#30961044) Journal
    Why they even bother salting roads when there is -12 degrees Celsius? Salting is only sensible when there is about -4 degrees (at least that is a rule of thumb here in Finland). Also, using fertilizers is so completely boneheaded move because that's plain and simple polluting. I guess that someone made a risk analysis and decided that polluting groundwater supplies causes less deaths than icy roads. But I can't help but wonder what the long-term effects are for environment and groundwater.
  • by zoney_ie ( 740061 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:25AM (#30961110)

    Actually for about 3 weeks there were only about 3 days where there was a thaw at midday - and that was the situation further south. It was pretty dramatic weather for somewhere that normally has relatively mild winters (even the usual week or two of more extreme weather is just a few degrees below freezing at night, and as you say, about zero by day). The outdoor temperature one morning at 10:30 AM (admittedly an hour and a half to go till midday) was -11C with freezing fog causing rather pretty ice constructions to stealthily grow on every surface!

    The council's actions were pretty much an act of desperation. It was awkward enough over the Christmas holidays (and people did die on the roads) but once people went back to work, with supplies pretty much exhausted and neighbours all having to conserve rock salt too, things were pretty dire.

    We'd have been completely snookered but for some investment in winter gear for the councils during the boom years. Previously in the 80s/90s a lot of councils probably would only have had a pick-up truck with guys with shovels to spread grit - now there are fleets of gritters with snowplough attachments and also supporting off-road vehicles with plough attachments - plus afaik some councils in parts of the country where it is more necessary have actual snowploughs too. However circumstances were nevertheless exacerbated by councils having limited 2009 budget left for paying overtime, so some of this kit stayed at home during Christmas.

    Things were bad enough that parts of the motorway network were temporarily reduced to one lane operation, and there was consideration given to closing even some major routes if the thaw hadn't arrived when it did.

  • by Darkman, Walkin Dude ( 707389 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:46AM (#30961196) Homepage

    but investment in the basics like water treatment leaves much to be desired.

    Water treatment is fine, the problem is in the 1940s supply infrastructure, debates in the Dáil have gone on record as saying that 45%+ of the water that is processed leaks from pipes en route to the taps. This is the legacy of the incompetents in charge of the country at the moment, who would rather bow to public sector union demands for pay rises than fix this infrastructure. Not to worry though, the Greens in the ruling coalition are going to inflict a new water rates tax on us to ensure that the unions get their pay rises.

  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @07:53AM (#30961216)

    Interesting that it was a Green minister who was responsible for this action

  • by twisting_department ( 1329331 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:01AM (#30961252)
    Strangely enough Inmos had a similar pollution problem caused by the local water company in south Wales:

    What had actually happened, as we found out three months later, was that on Christmas Eve the engineers at the local reservoir decided to celebrate. They were supposed to stay on site, so what they did was to dump 100 times the standard level of chlorine into the water supply, then go off and have a Christmas party. That chlorine totally ruined our semiconductor plant. The result was that the Americans said, "These Brits don't know what they're doing. Get rid of them!". The semiconductor facility was taken away and put under the control of the Americans who were deemed to understand these things.

    Seems the the Yanks can't defend themselves against this sort of thing either! []

  • by beyonddeath ( 592751 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @08:52AM (#30961454)
    They sell studable winter tires, although in many places they are illegal, for the reason you pointed out, plus they destroy the pavement. On the up side, if you can use them, I hear you can stick to ice as if it were pavement. Though with modern winter tires, even 10" of snow isnt a major issue even for most vehicles. I have only had issues in my corolla with Gislavid winter tires when the snow was high enough to start coming up the hood and over the windshied. If i stopped I couldnt get moving forward again wthout reversing and making a running start at it.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Saturday January 30, 2010 @09:04AM (#30961492)

    They may not want to spend the money on a real purifying system. They are very expensive but the water will have a greater than 18 megaohm resistance. I work in a pharmaceutical plant and our water is what they call nanopure. We have a Reverse Osmosis deionizing system. The water that goes in has visible rust or dirt floaties. The ions in our water are removed. A conductivity meter reads 0 microsemens at the faucet. It is possible to have clean water, but it'll cost.

    The really bad part is that most people don't have any kind of filtration system at home so they will be drinking all the fertilizer contamination. Cheap, but decently performing RO systems can be had for 200 bucks in the States. I got one that takes incoming 250-400ppm total dissolved solid city water and outputs 10-20 ppm water. is where I got mine. took a bit of effort to fix leaky connectors, but for the price some of that was expected.

  • Use water synthesis:

    1. Buy hydrogen and oxygen.
    2. Burn the pure hydrogen with pure oxygen into a fuel cell.
    3. Get electricity in the process
    4. Get pure water

    Sure, the process would not be cheep.

  • by DrRobert ( 179090 ) * < minus cat> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:26AM (#30961974) Homepage

    The water used for chip manufacture is a very ultrapure water created through an involved process using mixed media beds, filters, and reverse osmosis membranes. The fertilizer would have never made it to the chip but would have likely fouled the ultrapure water production equipment as it needs repetitively clean feed water. The molecules in the water actually etch the surface of the silicone if they are not removed. - according to an ultrapure water production class I attended.

  • by PhysicsPhil ( 880677 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @10:42AM (#30962090)

    I work in a semiconductor foundry, although not something on the scale of Intel. Foundries need ultrapure water not to get electrical insulation, but to remove contamination. Sodium, for example, acts as a mobile charge centre in silicon dioxide and changes the electrical properties of the devices.

    Foundries use reverse osmosis filters (not distillation) to get their deionized water, where they push water at pressure through a semipermeable membrane (i.e. permeable to water, not contaminants). RO membranes can get destroyed by unexpected contaminants, and so usually there are prefilters in place to take care of them. Some years ago we lost a (very expensive) membrane when the prefilter was accidentally swapped out but not replaced. My guess is that the fertilizer in the water supply had something that the prefilters/RO membrane couldn't handle, or couldn't handle so much of. Either they lost the membrane or shut things down as a precaution.

  • by Silvrmane ( 773720 ) on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:14PM (#30963356) Homepage
    While I generally regard using Wikipedia as a laughable "proof" in any sort of internet discussion, I find it doubly so in this case. The article cited has so many weasel words (may, could, should, might) that it becomes entirely devoid of informational content. If you are eating a properly nutritious diet, you will have zero need for any kind of dietary supplements, period. Dependence on the "nutritional" benefits of the minute amounts of calcium, magnesium, etc. in tap water borders on the delusional. Having said that, one adult sized vitamin capsule is going to have more of those trace minerals than 8 glasses of drinking water. As for the benefits of fluoride in the water, too much of it can also cause teeth to become brittle and prone to breakage. All good things in moderation. Considering where pure H20 ends up when ingested (mixed in with the contents of your stomach) tell me exactly how long it actually remains "pure" in the human body?
  • by Khyber ( 864651 ) <> on Saturday January 30, 2010 @01:22PM (#30963452) Homepage Journal

    "The human digestive system is a polymer (poly-phospholipid) lined tube that is impervious to water absorption. "

    Only the stomach. Most water absorption happens from duodenum to descending colon.

    Even taking a bath in purified deionized water is bad for you over time.

Air is water with holes in it.