Looking at Lead Acid Batteries

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Lead acid batteries are a contentious market. Environmental regulations are complex, and often the subject of public scrutiny. How do companies do enough to safeguard their own interests without compromising public ones? In the quest to secure autonomy without losing sight of ethical practice, policies and companies find themselves at opposite ends as they try and secure their own interests. This is most notable in the energy sector, particularly with batteries.

How Bad are Lead Batteries Really?

Lead batteries face targets from groups who believe that lead needs to be further regulated. Lead batteries are the most recycled consumer product on the market and due to the lens under which lead is closely examined, lead is not released back into the environment.

The lead element is highly regulated by the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), which implements the Safer Consumer Products (SCP) program to reduce toxicities in the products sold and used by consumers.

Currently, lead faces more regulation and possible extinction because the DTSC released a Priority Product Work Plan that included lead batteries as a potential candidate for increased listing. This can potentially impede upon lead acid batteries’ continuing evolution.

How Lead Acid Batteries Help Power Outages:

Lead batteries are used to power start-stop and hybrid vehicles that reduce tailpipe emissions. They help power hospitals, cell phone towers, schools, etc., for uninterruptible power supply.

During power cuts, lead acid batteries are able to provide large-scale emergency power for many things. For example, air traffic control towers, railroad crossings, military operations, submarines, and weapon systems. They also play a crucial role in solar installations and utility-scale grid balancing systems.

But Here’s the Problem:

Lead acid batteries contain sulphuric acid and copious amounts of lead. The acid is highly corrosive and is a carrier for soluble lead. Lead produces adverse health affects, particularly in children.

Exposure to large amounts of lead can cause impediments to numerous neurological and bodily dysfunctions. On average, each vehicle contains approximately 12 kilograms of lead, out of which 96% is in lead, while the remaining 4% is used in other applications like protective coatings and vibration dampers.

In the developing world, more than three million individuals die every year due to lead contamination from the processing of used lead acid batteries. South America, Africa, and South Asia are the most affected.

In various parts of the world, reconditioned lead acid batteries are offered for sale. This facilitates second-hand auto trade. Thousands of used Japanese cars are imported to the Caribbean islands and broken up for spare parts. Many of these vehicles contain used lead acid battery, which is removed and shipped to Venezuela for recycling.

When even one single lead acid battery is incorrectly disposed of into a municipal solid waste collection system, it could contaminate 25 tonnes of MSQ. It can also prevent the recovery of organic resources within the waste because of the high levels of lead.

Lead from storage batteries placed in unlined landfills can contaminate groundwater. We hope more regulations for safe depositing are made in the future.

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About Author

Nadia Zaidi

Nadia Zaidi is a freelance multimedia journalist whose work is featured in several print and digital publications. She previously developed and hosted a show on youth issues for community television, and produces short-documentaries for public outreach. She holds a bachelor's degree in Journalism from Ryerson University.

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