U.S. Exports Lead Poisoning to Mexico With Used Batteries
SAN FRANCISCO, California, June 15, 2011 (ENS) – Lead battery exports to Mexico are contributing to lead exposure levels on the job and in the environment that far exceed levels allowed by the U.S. government, finds a new report by two environmental organizations – one on each side of the border.
Less stringent environmental and occupational safety regulations in Mexico make it profitable for U.S. companies to ship batteries to Mexico for recycling, the report finds.
Prepared by Occupational Knowledge International, a U.S. organization, and Mexico’s Fronteras Comunes, the study quantifies the size of lead battery exports for the first time and details the differences in recycling emissions and worker health protection standards.
Roughly 12 percent of used lead batteries generated in the United States are exported to Mexico, the authors calculate. And, they note, used battery exports from the U.S. to Mexico are on the rise since the tightening of U.S. air quality standards in 2008.
Lead recycling is hazardous on both sides of the border. Here, a man ladles molten recycled lead into billets in a U.S. lead-acid battery recovery facility. (Photo courtesy NIOSH)
The report, “Exporting Hazards: U.S. Shipments of Used Lead Batteries to Mexico Take Advantage of Lax Environmental and Worker Health Regulations,” finds that from 2009 to 2010, exports of used lead batteries to Mexico more than doubled.
“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,” Gottesfeld said. “There are significant health effects from lead at the exposure levels we have documented.”
“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,” said Marisa Jacott, director of Fronteras Comunes.
“For the first time, we have 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,” said Jacott.
The Permissible Exposure Limit for airborne lead in the work place is three times higher in Mexico than in the United States.
The report provides evidence that differences in key environmental and occupational performance measures are even greater than the disparity in regulatory levels.
Airborne lead emissions reported by battery recycling plants in Mexico are 20 times higher than comparable plants in the United States, according to the report.
Lead batteries come primarily from cars and trucks but are also used in 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, little attention is being paid to the far larger trade in used batteries.
The amount of lead exported to Mexico in used batteries is double the amount exported by the United States in all other electronic waste, the report documents.
“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,” said Gottesfeld. “With more than 20 pounds of lead in a typical car battery, these can cause extensive harm if not reclaimed properly.”
Both lead battery and e-waste recycling can cause environmental contamination and health effects in children and adults.
The U.S. Agency for Toxic Substances says lead can damage the nervous system, kidneys, and reproductive system. Exposure to high lead levels can severely damage the brain and kidneys in adults or children and ultimately cause death, the agency warns. In pregnant women, high levels of exposure to lead may cause miscarriage. High levels of exposure in men can damage the organs responsible for sperm production.
The report was conducted between November 2010 and May 2011 and evaluated lead battery recycling facilities across Mexico and the United States. Click here to view the report.