San Francisco, California – Exports of lead batteries from the U.S. to Mexico are growing significantly, leading to higher exposures and public health effects, according to a new report by two environmental organizations.
The study, Exporting Hazards: U.S. shipments of used lead batteries to Mexico take advantage of lax environmental and worker health regulations, was prepared by the U.S.-based Occupational Knowledge International and Mexico’s Fronteras Comunes. For the first time, the study quantifies the size of lead battery exports and details the differences in recycling emissions and worker health protection standards.
“This report raises serious concerns about the contribution of used batteries from the U.S. to lead poisoning south of the border,” said Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of Occupational Knowledge International. “It is remarkable that both governments allow U.S. companies to export batteries to Mexico where there is neither the regulatory capacity nor the technology in place to recycle them safely. There are significant health effects from lead at the exposure levels we have documented.”
Lead battery exports, which have increased significantly since U.S. ambient air standards were tightened in 2008, are contributing to occupational and environmental exposures that far exceed levels allowed by the U.S. government. Less stringent environmental and occupational safety regulations in Mexico make it more profitable for U.S. companies to ship batteries to Mexico for recycling.
The report found that from 2009 to 2010, exports of used lead batteries to Mexico more than doubled; approximately 12 per cent of used lead batteries generated in the U.S. are exported to Mexico; actual airborne lead emissions reported by battery recycling plants in Mexico are approximately 20 times higher than comparable plants in the U.S.; and the amount of lead exported in used batteries is double the amount exported by the U.S. in all other electronic waste.
The batteries primarily come from cars and trucks, but also include those used in cell phone towers, solar power systems, golf carts and forklifts.
“While many government regulators have focused on the dangers associated with (electronics) waste recycling, they may not be aware that lead battery recycling often has greater impacts on health and the environment,” Gottesfeld said. “With more than 20 pounds (nine kilograms) of lead in a typical car battery, these can cause extensive harm if not reclaimed properly.”