Battery Recycling

Battery Recycling

Fact Sheet: Battery Recycling – Ranked #1


Estimated DALYs: 4,800,000


What is the industry?


Lead-acid batteries contribute the largest source of pollution to the battery recycling industry. They consist of lead plates sitting in sulfuric acid that is surrounded by the plastic casing of the battery. When they are recycled the battery is crushed and the elements separated, then the lead is re-smelted to be used again in battery production. The plastics are recycled and usually used to create more battery cases. The metals smelted and poured into molds were the impurities float to the top, leaving the recycled lead bar, called an ingot. These are used in the manufacturing of new lead-acid batteries, essentially making the system a closed-loop.


What are the pollutants?


The amount of lead and the highly toxic nature of the element make it the top pollutant at contaminated lead-acid battery recycling sites. Other pollutants include arsenic and cadmium.


What are the exposure pathways?


The main pathway for pollutants is through the emissions released from the melting of the battery metals and through the unsafe disposal of waste. When lead is melted the ash and dust from the burning element is released into the immediate surroundings and can fall onto soil and waterways. Waste from these processes is often dumped into piles in the community or directly into nearby waterways, often children play directly in or near these waste dumps and are directly exposed to lead. Contaminants also leach into ground water or into waterways used by local communities.


What are the health risks?


When lead is inhaled or ingested it is stored in the body and accumulates over time. Lead is designated as a possible human carcinogen, and can cause neurological, gastrointestinal and cardiovascular problems. Neurological problems include mild mental retardation, decreased IQ, shortened attention spans, loss of executive functions, increased dyslexia and diminished productivity and disproportionally affect children.

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