Changing Perceptions: The Need for an “Unbalanced Force”

Dan Oman

When you ask someone not directly involved with metalcasting to share their perception(s) of the industry, what reaction do you typically get? In many cases you might struggle to find someone that knows anything about metalcasting let alone knowledge of the impact this industry has on the economy, the role the industry plays in the supply chain for almost every manufactured item in this country or the challenges faced by metalcasters.  Often the feedback you receive would include descriptors such as:

Smokestack industry.
Responsible for more than its share of global pollution.
Low technology.
Lacking challenging career opportunities.
Challenged by foreign competition.

In many ways this perception of the industry has not changed substantially since the 1970s.  

Most of us that work in this industry or are suppliers to this industry would view these perceptions as painting an incorrect description of metalcasting.  If we were asked to share our perception of the metalcasting industry, our descriptors might include:

A modern industry with ancient roots.
One of the original industrial recyclers.
High technology (additive manufacturing).
Providing challenging long-term careers.
Finding unique ways to compete in a global market.

With these two diametrically opposed perceptions, which one is correct? Clearly, we would lean toward the perceptions of those who have more experience and more knowledge of the industry, but are the perceptions of the less knowledgeable incorrect?

According to Steven Covey, the author of the bestselling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change, “We see the world, not as it is, but as we are–or, as we are conditioned to see it.” He continues by telling us that how we are “conditioned” to see the world as a function of our paradigm or the “lens through which we view the world.”  

How we are “conditioned” to see the world (or our paradigm) is something that is typically developed from information we have received or from experiences we have had over our lifetime.  Covey would tell us that the perceptions people have will not change unless there is a significant paradigm shift or what he terms an “Ah Ha” moment. The real question becomes, how do we encourage a change in perspective or cause a paradigm shift on the part of others?    

It’s A Matter of Simple Physics
Discussion of issues such as changing perceptions and shifting paradigms can be a bit of a challenge, especially for those with a technical or scientific background.  In some instances, it might help to evaluate this matter of changing perspectives by making an analogy using a well-known scientific law of motion. 

Sir Isaac Newton’s first law of motion states that an object at rest stays at rest and an object in motion stays in motion with the same speed and in the same direction unless acted upon by an unbalanced force.  

In many ways, a person’s perspective is much the same as an object in motion.  That perspective, just like the object in space, will continue moving in a given direction at a constant speed unless acted upon by an unbalanced force. Once the unbalanced force has acted upon the object, its velocity will change in response to the unbalanced force.  The object may move in a different direction, but at the same speed, or it may maintain its original direction and move at a different speed, or both the speed and the direction could change.  

For a change in perspective to occur, someone or something must apply an “unbalanced force” to create what Covey defined as a paradigm shift.  The question becomes, what does it take to be an “unbalanced force” in order to change a person’s perspective regarding the metalcasting industry?  Perhaps if we look at a couple of historical examples of how the public’s perception of our industry changed, we might be able to glean some common aspects that will help guide future efforts designed to change perspectives.  

Gray Iron Foundry Sludge as a Listed Hazardous Waste
In 1976 Congress enacted the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which amended the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965.  RCRA was enacted because Congress was concerned the growth in the generation of wastes was not mirrored by a similar growth in effective waste management facilities (landfills, treatment systems, etc.).  One of the major outgrowths of RCRA was the development of hazardous waste regulations.  As part of the development of these regulations the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed that “Lead-Bearing Wastewater Treatment Sludges from Gray Iron Foundries” would be considered a listed hazardous waste.  

When this regulation was first proposed by the EPA, the American Foundry Society (AFS), Environmental Health and Safety (EHS) Division’s Water Quality and Solid Waste Disposal Committee, recognized that if this regulation became final, it would have a significant financial impact on the industry.  

In June of 1980, AFS met with the EPA to request it be given the opportunity to work on a joint project to assess the environmental characteristics of melt emission control dusts and sludges along with other mixed foundry wastes.  While the concept of a joint project was never fully developed, the agency did agree to split samples of the dusts, sludges and mixed foundry wastes with AFS so that both entities could conduct testing on the same set of samples.  

The AFS research effort was conducted by the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Wisconsin, and resulted in an AFS Transaction, “Leachate Tests on Selected Foundry Cupola Dusts and Sludges.” The significant findings from the research included:

Only nine out of 21 foundries (43%) generated wastes that would have been classified as hazardous wastes.  

One of the nine foundries generated two emission control baghouse dusts.  One would have been classified as hazardous and the other nonhazardous.
While cadmium and chromium concentrations were comparable between the EPA and University of Wisconsin laboratories, concentrations of lead varied by up to a factor of five.

When the emission control wastes were mixed with other foundry waste materials, only three of the nine foundries that generated hazardous emission control wastes also generated hazardous mixed wastes.

This information was shared with the EPA at the conclusion of the research.  Ultimately, it decided not to classify lead-bearing emission control dusts and sludges from gray iron foundries as a listed hazardous waste.  This decision, although probably not well known by most metalcasters, saved the industry from having to manage many nonhazardous wastes as hazardous and significantly reduced the cost of management of those wastes that possessed hazardous characteristics.  

Foundry Sand Becomes a Waste at Shakeout
In 1994, staff from EPA Region 6 targeted two brass and bronze foundries for enforcement under RCRA.  It was the agency’s perception that foundry sand which was reused onsite in the production process should be considered a solid waste.  If that solid waste also exhibited a hazardous characteristic (e.g. for lead and/or cadmium toxicity), then the foundry sand was also considered a hazardous waste.  This perception had the potential for significant ramifications to the industry as it allowed the agency to regulate the ongoing production process associated with the sand system.

The AFS Water Quality and Solid Waste Disposal Committee was concerned EPA did not possess the authority to regulate foundry sand while it was still being used as part of the production process. If foundry sand became a waste at shakeout, there could be significant compliance issues that would impact normal day-to-day production activities.

AFS offered to give EPA staff the opportunity to tour three foundries in Pennsylvania to learn foundry processes and the potential impacts of this determination.  Initially, foundries were concerned agency staff would have the opportunity to identify noncompliance issues because of the tours.  Although the agency staff could not rule out that compliance issues could be observed during the tours, they made it clear that compliance determinations was not the focus of this effort and that any violations observed would only be reported if they presented an imminent threat to human health or the environment.  

The foundry tours were conducted in 1999 and were extremely helpful in two ways.  First, representatives of the industry and EPA got the opportunity to travel and tour these three foundries together. The interaction during this process helped build trust and increased the understanding on both sides. Second, it was clear the agency staff did not possess even a rudimentary understanding of foundry production processes.  The tours gave them the opportunity to better understand the foundry sand system and how sand is managed in the foundry.

On May 19, 2000, AFS sent a letter to the EPA formally requesting that the agency change its earlier designation regarding foundry sand at shakeout based upon the issues identified during the foundry tours and case law issued by the District of Columbia (DC) circuit court in early 2000.  In that case, it was determined a material only becomes a waste when there is clear intent to discard the material.  From the tours, it was obvious that the foundries visited were not discarding the sand during the shakeout process and thus it was both inappropriate and unlawful to consider the material as a solid waste at that point in the process.  On March 28, 2001, the EPA formally responded to the AFS letter.  In that letter, the agency stated, “…the sands being used onsite in the primary production process on a continuous basis in the sand loop are not solid wastes.” EPA also mentioned it appreciated the three foundry tours.

Beneficial Use of Foundry Sand
With the advent of the Solid Waste Disposal Act of 1965 and subsequent development of municipal solid waste and industrial solid waste regulations at the state level, foundry sand (and other potentially reusable foundry by-products) were precluded from beneficial use and forced to be placed in permitted solid waste disposal facilities.  

Initially, these state solid waste regulations required foundry process wastes be managed in facilities that had design features (clay/synthetic liners, leachate collection systems, daily cover, etc.) that mimicked the design features in municipal solid waste landfills.  State regulatory agencies were unwilling to consider alternative design features for foundry waste landfills or beneficial use of certain byproducts because they were unfamiliar with the nature and characteristics of these wastes and the potential risks they posed to human health and the environment.  The metalcasting industry was suddenly faced with significant increases in solid waste disposal fees as their only options were to manage the materials in existing municipal solid waste landfills or to site and permit their own industrial waste landfill with all the associated design features.

With rising waste management costs and lack of other options, AFS funded a series of research projects designed to generate data on the nature and characteristics of foundry process wastes that could be used by state regulators and individual foundries to more closely tailor the design features of a disposal facility with the actual risks posed by the material to be placed in the facility.  Following the completion of research by AFS, the State of Wisconsin also undertook research designed to evaluate the potential impacts from the beneficial use of foundry sand in highway construction.  

This ultimately led to a comprehensive research project conducted by the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) Agricultural Research Service (ARS) in conjunction with The Ohio State University (OSU), to evaluate the risks posed by reuse of foundry by-products (in this case foundry sand) in soil related applications (such as road base, manufactured topsoil, potting soil, etc.).  This became a $5 million-dollar research effort that took over five years to complete by the USDA ARS and OSU.  It involved collection of samples of foundry sand from 43 different foundries and in addition to thorough testing of the samples, the researchers evaluated uptake of chemical constituents in plant tissues of certain plant species grown in various mixtures of potting soil containing foundry sand. 

In the end, the USDA ARS concluded that foundry sand could be beneficially used in this manner without posing an unacceptable risk to human health and the environment.  

While this result was a significant breakthrough, it was felt that the study would have more impact and more widespread credibility if it were also blessed by a national regulatory agency such as the USEPA. AFS and others approached the USEPA to assess their willingness to review the work conducted by USDA ARS and to provide their independent review of the research and risk assessment methodology to determine if it was acceptable to the USEPA.  

In October 2014, the USEPA and the USDA issued the final report entitled, “Risk Assessment of Spent Foundry Sands in Soil-Related Applications.” One of the most groundbreaking conclusions issued in the final report stated, “…Metals found in SFS are present at concentrations similar to background in U.S. and Canadian soils.” This was a huge shift in perception on the part of an agency that once assured AFS that foundry sand needed to be regulated as a waste and could not be beneficially used. The USEPA went even further in its final conclusion by stating, “Based on the conclusions of the risk assessment conducted for the specific SFSs applications as stated above, and the available environmental and economic benefits, the EPA and USDA support the beneficial use of silica-based SFS specifically from iron, steel and aluminum foundry operations when used in manufactured soils and soil-less potting media, and roadway construction as sub-base.” In essence, the agency not only believed that beneficial use of foundry sand is acceptable, it also supported the use of the material based upon the conservation of natural resources (virgin aggregates) and reduction in greenhouse gas production associated with reuse of the material.  This clearly was a paradigm shift on the part of the agency.

Common Themes
From these three examples we can begin to see some common themes associated with each of these changes in perception.  

Common to each of these examples was that someone or some entity evaluated the perception on the part of the public and determined that, if left unchanged, the result would have negative consequences for the industry.  While this may appear on the surface to be obvious, that is not always the case.  

Simple recognition of the issue and the potential impact of the issue in and of itself is not enough.  Nothing is going to happen in terms of changing perceptions without the ability to engage the other side.  This is really a two-way street.  The metalcasting industry must have the desire to engage the public and the public must have the desire to engage the industry.  If either party seeks to avoid engagement, the prospects for material change in perception are severely limited, if not impossible.  

To successfully change a person’s perspective, we must first seek to understand what influences (forces) have acted upon that individual which has resulted in the development of their unique perspective.  All too often in our haste to change perspectives we simply ignore this step in the change process.  We either assume that we understand why a person’s perspective is what it is, or we choose to not spend the time and effort that it takes to better understand the reasons behind a person’s perspective or belief.  

Once we understand the forces that have had an influence on a person’s perspective, we can assess what information may be missing that needs to be presented or what information possessed by the individual might be incorrect.  Just as an instructor evaluates the level of knowledge that a student possesses, so must we assess the level of understanding on the part of the public and determine where deficiencies exist or where incorrect information has been obtained.  

In some instances, this may simply involve the transfer of information that we possess to those that possess the difference of perspective.  

Once the public has been given the opportunity to be educated regarding the justification for our perspective, the process of changing their perspective does not end.  It is incumbent upon us in this industry to actively advocate our position, armed with this new information. One important aspect of this advocacy is timing. 

All too often we pursue advocacy before we have taken the time to engage and educate the public.

As this industry moves forward with current and future efforts to change the public’s perception of our industry we need to be mindful of the role each of us must play as part of the “unbalanced force” to effectively change perception. 

This article is adapted from the Hoyt Memorial Lecture delivered at the 2018 Metalcasting Congress.

Click here to see this story as it appears in the June 2018 issue of Modern Casting