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Lead From Old U.S. Batteries Causing Health Hazards In Mexico

Lead From Old U.S. Batteries Causing Health Hazards In Mexico
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Going green for many Americans means recycling. Isn’t that doing good for the planet? Done well, recycling batteries is certainly environmentally responsible, since lead mining and processing cause far greater emissions of carbon dioxide than extracting lead from old car batteries for re-use.

But the spent batteries Americans turn in for recycling are increasingly being sent to Mexico, where their lead is often extracted by crude methods that are illegal in the United States, exposing plant workers and local residents to dangerous levels of a toxic metal.

Why Are Old U.S. Batteries Ending Up In Mexico?

The rising flow of batteries is a result of strict new Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards on lead pollution, which make domestic recycling more difficult and expensive, but do not prohibit companies from exporting the work and the danger to countries where standards are low and enforcement is lax.

Batteries are imported through official channels or smuggled in to satisfy a growing demand for lead, once cheap and readily available but now in short global supply. Lead batteries are crucial to cellphone networks, solar power arrays and the exploding Chinese car market, and the demand for lead has increased as much as tenfold in a decade.

An analysis of trade statistics by The New York Times shows that about 20 percent of spent American vehicle and industrial batteries are now exported to Mexico, up from 6 percent in 2007. About 20 million such batteries will cross the border this year, according to United States trade statistics.

Lead Can Cause Serious Developmental Delays In Young Children

Spent batteries house up to 40 pounds of lead, which can cause high blood pressure, kidney damage and abdominal pain in adults, and serious developmental delays and behavioral problems in young children because it interferes with neurological development. When batteries are broken for recycling, the lead is released as dust and, during melting, as lead-laced emissions.
Lead battery recyclers in the United States now operate in sealed, highly mechanized plants like labs working with dangerous germs. Their smokestacks are fitted with scrubbers, and their perimeters are surrounded by lead-monitoring devices.

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29 comments

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3:19AM PDT on Jul 9, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

10:07AM PDT on Sep 11, 2012

This is not a new problem, nor is it limited to Mexico. Taiwan used to be a major center for lead-acid battery recycling, which was done without any environmental regulation.

This article focuses on lead and does not discuss the sulfuric acid which is present in every lead-acid battery. This too is a toxin and when combined with any heavy metal or a variety of other innocuous substances in the environment, forms toxic sulphates. To my knowledge, the acid in batteries in not recycled. I do not know whether it is disposed of in a safe manner.

4:09PM PST on Jan 4, 2012

Typical.

6:44PM PST on Dec 23, 2011

Just one of many things the U.S. does to ruin Mexico...terrible!

3:36AM PST on Dec 14, 2011

Bravo Amie K. You said it! There is no us and them! This planet is ours which we can save together or destroy together. We are all in this TOGETHER. It should be a NO BRAINER, so why is it that people don't get it?

3:17AM PST on Dec 14, 2011

I am all for technologies that allow us to recharge batteries. The policies need to be tougher. A human life, just one, is precious. And really, nobody NEEDS anything that runs on batteries. Cell phones, video games, cameras, cars... they are "convenient" but if every person, or even the majority of consumers, were committed to change, we could do it.

2:59AM PST on Dec 14, 2011

I hear that the energy used to make a 1.5 volt battery is thousands of times more than what we get from it! What a waste! And that disposable batteries are probably the least efficient form of energy ever! So why do they make them?
Car batteries though are recyclable, and should be recycled, as to why the U.S are sending it to Mexico? Could it because they despise and look down on their southern neighbours? Regarding them as hired help and servants and la cucaracha'. .. I don't know, but it's how I see them portrayed in the American media.

10:11PM PST on Dec 13, 2011

Control over every corporate money making BS scheme needs to be regulated better! Darnit - I just dropped off a 6 month supply of batteries to be recycled - and this is where they are going? Just when you thing you are doing a good thing...

I swear the next disability check is going toward rechargeables and a better recharger.

8:27PM PST on Dec 13, 2011

signed it...I think all batteries need to be recycled and any store that sells them should have to collect used batteries for recycling not just car batteries.

6:12PM PST on Dec 13, 2011

well said Isabel A

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