Lead from U.S. Batteries Polluting Mexican School Yards

The U.S. is sending an increasing number of end-of-life batteries across the boarder to Mexico, where the lead is removed and then re-sold or re-used, according to the New York Times.

A worker is ladling molten recycled lead into billets in a U.S. lead-acid battery recovery facility. Any manufacturing operation involving lead has the potential for overexposure, and so unlike many facilities in Mexico the a lead program (including provision of work clothes and PPE) is in place here.
Credit: U.S. National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) 14 December 2011

The U.S. is sending an increasing number of end-of-life batteries across the boarder to Mexico, where the lead is removed and then re-sold or re-used, according to the New York Times.

With the introduction by the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.) of new regulations concerning lead pollution, the recycling process for batteries has become more expensive and complex in the U.S., leading to a rise in the export of batteries to Mexico where regulations are less stringent and infrequently enforced.
 
According to The New York Times, its analysis of trade statistics showed that around 20% of spent U.S. vehicle and industrial batteries are now exported to Mexico, up from 6% in 2007.

The report claimed that the statistic show around 20 million such batteries will cross the border this year - and that's without counting any illegal smuggling activity.

According to the paper, spent batteries house up to 40 pounds (18 kg) 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.

While recycling plants in the U.S. are required to fit their smokestacks with scrubbers, surround their perimeters with lead-monitoring devices, and protect their workers from exposure with a sealed, mechanised process, many Mexican recycling operations have no such safeguards, the New York Times reported.

However, in Mexico the paper cites the example of Industrial Mondelo, a large recycling compound where batteries are smashed with hammers, and the lead melted in unsophisticated furnaces - venting lead particles to the outside where they settle in schools and food court.

A soil sample taken by The New York Times from a nearby schoolyard contained 2000 parts per million, five times the EPA's limit for children's play areas in the U.S.

The paper said that in most states that situation would require immediate remediation, such as covering the area with concrete or disposing of the soil.


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