Report into U.S. Exports of Car Batteries to Mexico

U.S. businesses have been exporting large volumes of car batteries to Mexico to take advantage of lax environmental and worker protection laws.

16 June 2011

U.S. businesses have been exporting large volumes of car batteries to Mexico to take advantage of lax environmental and worker protection laws.

According to a new report conducted by two environmental organisations - U.S. based Occupational Knowledge International and Mexico's Fronteras Comunes - exports of hazardous lead batteries from the U.S. to Mexico are growing significantly, leading to higher exposures and subsequent public health impacts.

The study - Exporting Hazards: U.S. Shipments of Used Lead Batteries to Mexico Take Advantage of Lax Environmental and Worker Health Regulations - quantifies the size of lead battery exports for the first time and details the differences in recycling emissions and worker health protection standards.

Lead battery exports, which have increased significantly since the tightening of U.S. ambient air standards in 2008, are contributing to occupational and environmental exposures that far exceed levels allowed by the U.S. government, the study claims.

Less stringent environmental and occupational safety regulations in Mexico make it more profitable for companies to ship batteries to Mexico to be recycled.

The report notes that differences in key environmental and occupational performance measures are even greater than the disparity in regulatory levels. Additional findings from this report include the following:
From 2009 to 2010, exports of used lead batteries to Mexico more than doubled; Approximately 12% 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.; The amount of lead exported to Mexico in used batteries is double the amount exported by the U.S. in all other electronic waste (e-waste); The Permissible Exposure Limit for airborne lead in the work place is three times higher in Mexico than in the U.S. Lead batteries come primarily from cars and trucks but are also used in a range of applications, including cell phone towers, solar power systems, golf carts and forklifts.

Although governments are undertaking major initiatives to stop the export of e-waste- including computers, TVs, mobile phones and other electronics to developing countries, the report claims that little attention is being paid to the far larger trade in used batteries.

"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 (OK) 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," he added.

Marisa Jacott, Director of Fronteras Comunes said: "We are hopeful that the results of this report will provide the evidence needed to encourage action on behalf of both the U.S. and Mexico to better regulate these hazardous imports to our country."

According to Fronteras Comunes, for the first time the new report offers a thorough understanding of the scale of these exports and how it contributes to lead emissions in Mexican communities and how workers' health is suffering because the Mexican government has failed to enact protective standards.

"While many government regulators have focused on the dangers associated with e-waste recycling, they may not be aware that lead battery recycling often has greater impacts on health and the environment," Gottesfeld concluded. "With more than 20 pounds (9 kg) of lead in a typical car battery, these can cause extensive harm if not reclaimed properly.



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