CEC Report on Lead Acid Battery Recycling & Exports in North America

The CEC has published its final independent report investigating environmental and health hazards of the trade in spent lead acid batteries in North America.

The North American Commission for Environmental Cooperation's  (CEC) Secretariat has published its final independent report investigating environmental and health hazards of the trade in spent lead acid batteries (SLABs) in North America.

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Through the report the CEC – which is an intergovernmental organization that supports the cooperative environmental agenda of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. - made recommendations for specific policy actions to North American governments on how to handle this common and potentially hazardous waste.

According to the report - Hazardous Trade? An Examination of US-generated Spent Lead-acid Battery Exports and Secondary Lead Recycling in Mexico, the United States and Canada - SLABs from cars and trucks are one of the world’s most recycled consumer products because the lead they contain is valuable and can be processed for reuse.

The report analyzed the cross-border trade in lead-acid batteries and presented recommendations on how to better monitor their handling to the CEC Council.

The CEC said that it initiated the report in response to concerns that U.S. companies were shipping batteries to Mexico and other countries to avoid the cost imposed by stricter environmental laws.

According to the report over the last seven years there has been a significant increase in exports of SLABs from the U.S. to Mexico, where the lead is recycled into refined lead for use in new batteries. Currently some 30% to 60% of all batteries recycled in Mexico were reported to have come from the U.S.

“If not handled properly, lead presents a grave health risk to workers and also to the young children and community members who live near smelting facilities," explained Irasema Coronado, executive director at the CEC.

"All of us who own a car ‘own’ this problem, and need to feel confident that the hazardous waste we bring in for recycling is being disposed of properly, no matter where it is sent for processing,”  she added.

Findings

Among the key findings of the report was that the regulatory frameworks covering secondary lead smelters in the U.S., Canada and Mexico do not provide equivalent levels of environmental and health protections.

Currently, the U.S. is reported to have the most stringent overall framework, while in Mexico, with significant gaps in its existing regulatory framework, certain emission controls and requirements are the least stringent and need to be augmented.

Exacerbating the situation, the report found that the unlike Canada and Mexico, the U.S. does not require a manifest to accompany international shipments of SLABs. It also does not require exporters of SLABs to obtain a certificate of recovery from the recycling facility.

The report also noticed deficiencies in the way in which data is reported, logged and processed, as well as discrepancies between figures which indicate that exporters of SLABs may not be correctly classifying that quantity of SLABs under the harmonized tariff code system.

A review of USEPA and U.S. Census Bureau data indicated that over 47 million kg of SLABs were exported to Mexico in 2011 without applying the proper harmonized tariff code.

Furthermore, the CEC estimated that between 2004 and 2011, U.S. net exports to Mexico increased by between 449% and 525%.

Recommendations

The CEC Secretariat recommended that the governments of Canada, Mexico and the U.S. adopt six broad goals to address the findings presented in this report and offered specific steps that governments can take to help realise them.

The report said that its recommendations are designed to improve the management of information across North America and to ensure that adequate measures are in place to protect workers and the general public from the lead emitted during the recycling of spent lead-acid batteries in Mexico.

The key recommendations include:

The governments in Canada and Mexico should commit to achieving levels of environmental and health protections in the secondary lead industry that are functionally equivalent to those in the U.S. The U.S. should require the use of manifests for each international shipment of SLABs, and require exporters to obtain a certificate of recovery from recycling facilitiesMexico needs to establish a comprehensive monitoring system to measure lead air emissions from every secondary lead smelter in operation in the country.

Reaction

In reaction to the report’s development, Mexico’s environmental enforcement agency, Profepa ramped up investigations and operations. The implementation of a special program to target this issue has led to the inspection of 20 facilities and more than 256 tonnes of SLABs seized in different enforcement actions across the country.

“Mexico is already taking action, which bodes well for this issue in the future, and the CEC will continue to support Mexico in its efforts. The handling of SLABs presents an opportunity for North American environmental agencies to cooperate and raise the bar on enforcement and compliance,” commented Coronado.

The full report can be downloaded HERE

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