LEAD Action News

LEAD Action News Vol 3 no 2 Autumn 1995 ISSN 1324-6011
Incorporating Lead Aware Times ( ISSN 1440-4966) and Lead Advisory Service News ( ISSN 1440-0561)
The journal of The LEAD (Lead Education and Abatement Design) Group Inc.

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Lead-Acid Batteries - The Problems

 by Elizabeth O'Brien and Ann Gethin

The move towards zero emission vehicles is hailed as the definitive technological answer to the problem of air pollution from vehicle emissions from increasing numbers of cars travelling increasing distances on an increasingly overpopulated planet - see article on electric cars

Currently 64% of world lead production goes to lead acid battery manufacture and the prediction is that this proportion will rise to 70% of world lead production, which itself continues to rise annually.

Most people view the use of lead in lead acid batteries as safe and acceptable because power can be generated to recharge the batteries at power plants at a distance from human populations thus minimising the human health effects of emissions, and because the lead, acid and plastic in batteries are all recyclable.

And if you think that's just a projection - here's some local facts about the current situation:

  • three lead acid battery plants operate within Australia in SA, Queensland and NSW. The former two are each surrounded by a non-residential buffer zone of 2-3 km. The Apollo Battery Plant in Marayong, near Blacktown in Sydney's west is surrounded by 67 schools or pre-schools within a one and a half kilometre radius;

  • of three fires at Apollo in the last twelve months since it opened, one was allegedly responsible for 5- 10 tonnes of lead being emitted from the plant;

  • the EPA has not complied with stipulations in the development approval, to provide data on air, soil and dust lead levels and the community is lobbying for daily air lead monitoring due to lack of information on baseline contamination levels in the surrounding area;

  • even though the lead acid battery industry claims a recycling rate of over 90%, up to one third of Australia's batteries have been recycled outside Australia in Third World countries, sometimes by children and always with much less stringent control for occupational health and safety and environmental protection, and also in contravention of the Basel Convention which comes into full force in 1997.

The Commonwealth Environmental Protection Agency "hazardous waste act policy reference group" met recently to discuss the problem of lead acid battery waste. Australia produces about 3.8 million waste batteries each year and in past years about 2.5 million have been recycled. The remaining 1.3 million have been exported, or in recent months stockpiled in Australia. As of this year Australia will have the capacity to recycle all the lead acid battery waste produced domestically. This means that exporting used lead acid batteries from Australia will no longer be permissible under the Basel Convention (previously exports have been allowed due to lack of sufficient recycling capacity).

A possible loophole to this ban may exist in an article of the convention that allows export to countries who require the waste as a raw material for their recycling or recovery industries. However potential exporters would still have to meet the requirement that trans-boundary movement be reduced to the minimum consistent with the environmentally sound and efficient management of such wastes. We would interpret this as meaning that countries recycle their own waste wherever possible - therefore, there are no grounds for Australia to ship out its old lead batteries.

The ban on trade in lead-acid batteries received a negative response from The Australian Bureau of Industry Economics. Their dire predictions include that exports could reduce by 90%. We wonder why this is seen as a problem - surely this is the intention of the ban (if not 100% reduction)! They also argue that the ban will lead to a reduction in the number of batteries recycled in Australia. In the light of increases in recycling capacities (as detailed above) this also appears to be a spurious criticism.

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Last Updated 16 November 2012
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