Electrochemical Post-Processing of Zn-Ni Deposition on Steel Substrate for Reliable Composition; You Can Not Put the Fire Out from Inside of the House: The Rot of Industrial Demands at the Core of the United States’ Incapacitated Regulatory Agencies

Laubengayer, Emma, School of Engineering and Applied Science, University of Virginia
Fitz-Gerald, James, EN-Mat Sci & Engr Dept, University of Virginia
Wylie, Caitlin, EN-Engineering and Society, University of Virginia

In 1992, Time magazine reflected on the consequences of the growth of technology in the 20th century America, “For good and ill, people of our time have witnessed more change than anyone who ever lived” (Gray, 1992, pg. 1). The breakneck speed of technological innovation in the 20th century left little time to consider the long-term harm the innovations could pose to the public and the environment. Regulatory agencies, such as OSHA and the EPA, were made in response to this unyielding period of innovation, yet the industries which brought forth the need for regulations also have the capability to circumvent governmental oversight. The aerospace sector was not immune from this development, as their tried-and-true method of protecting their steel components from corrosion, cadmium electrodeposited coatings, were found to be carcinogenic far after their introduction to industry (Waalkes, 2003). Zinc-Nickel coatings were developed as a replacement, but they are not capable of replacing Cadmium until the amount of Nickel is perfected. Until then, regulatory agencies must be held at bay from enacting stricter Cd regulations. Also, regulatory agencies will remain reactive forces in addressing industrial concerns until the influences of industrial demands are unwound from the legislature that brought forth OSHA and the EPA.
Replacements for cadmium electrodeposited coatings have been developed, such as a Zn-Ni electrodeposited coating, but the Zn-Ni coating induces stress corrosion cracking in the steel substrate underneath. There has been prior research done to understand that the coating’s electrochemical potential must be within -700 mV vs. SCE to -300 mV vs. SCE to avoid inducing SCC in the steel, and the potential of the average Zn-Ni coating is around -960 mV vs. SCE. My technical project is based on selectively dissolving the more reactive Zn from the Zn-Ni coating, which will leave an Ni enriched surface behind, increasing the potential of the coating into the immunity potential region. The selective dissolution technique optimized the current density value and the potential limit that will mark the end of the technique, to ensure that the technique selectively targets the Zinc and not the Nickel, or else the nobility of the coating would not be changed. This technique replicability was tested on a multitude of Zn-Ni coated steel samples and showcased favorable dissolution behavior and repeatedly reached the immunity potential region.
The continued industrial viability of Cadmiums leaves the Environmental Protection Agency and the Occupational Safety and Health Agency unable to enact stricter regulatory practices against the use of the carcinogen. This issue is not restricted to the Cadmium industry, as OSHA and the EPA are constrained to being reactionary bodies that must operate within the confines of what industry allows them to investigate, unless a judicial system grants them the ability to proceed without consent. The sociotechnical problem that was investigated in my STS paper was the how inefficiencies manifest within the regulatory system due to embedded weaknesses that enable companies to avoid responsibility for manufacturing new compounds that pose an environmental risk and endanger industrial workers, and how industries exploit those inefficiencies. There was involvement of industrial lobbying and influence from the Department of Commerce to abide by commercial interests in the making of the EPA and OSHA, which allowed for various techniques to be developed by industry to obscure and evade regulatory action against the products that endangered the public. The most productive means of handling the current inefficiencies were to address the faults in the initial legislature and empower regulatory agencies to address potential hazards before they become catastrophes.
I do not feel successful in contributing to the solution of the general problem, as the technology of the 20th century feeds into the exponential growth of technology in the 21st century. Regulatory agencies are a band aid solution to address the growing concerns about unmediated technological development. There is a need to understand how modern-day companies address ethical concerns with their products, and what forces compel them towards remedying those concerns, perhaps with the help of a governmental body, or dismissing them. What is true is that the behavior of past corporations is not sustainable, and unless regulatory agencies are empowered to tackle potential hazards before they become catastrophes, the cycle will continue.
I would like to thank Dr. Wylie and Dr. Foley for their wonderous insight into STS research and framework management, as well as their patience with having to read so many papers. As well, I would like to thank Dr. Fitz-Gerald and Dr. Kelly for advising the technical portion of the my thesis and informing me of the history of Cadmium use in electroplating.

BS (Bachelor of Science)
Zn-Ni, Electroplating, Electrochemistry, Regulatory Agencies, Stress Corrosion Cracking, Pyrowear Substrate, Infrastructure Framework

School of Engineering and Applied Science

Bachelor of Science in Material Science and Engineering

Technical Advisor: James Fitz-Gerald

STS Advisor: Caitlin Wylie

Technical Team Members: Thomas Domer, Emma Laubengayer, Morgan Small, Leah Smith, Alexandra Uy

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