The wide-spread, short-term use of automotive batteries for rural electricity supply is likely to cause serious environmental pollution problems from lead contamination in the future. Recycling should therefore be a main component of all battery programs.
Batteries contain toxic materials such as lead, cadmium, acids and plastics which can harm humans, animals and the environment. Therefore, they must not be disposed of in landfills or burned, but have to be treated as hazardous waste.
In many countries recycling of batteries to reuse its materials is common practice.
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The potential health and environmental risk involved when processing battery scrap is very high.
Depending on the level of mechanisation and environmental standards, the following environmental hazards can arise:
- soil and groundwater contamination by acid spilled when batteries are emptied
- wind dispersal of lead dust if crushed battery scrap is stored without protection
- substantial atmospheric emissions (e.g. lead-containing dust, soot, SO2 chlorides, dioxins, etc.) when battery scrap is smelted due to:
- processing the entire battery including its organic parts (casing, PVC separators in older battery types)
- inadequate removel of gases and vapours during the smelting and refining process
- absent or inadeqaute flue gas treatment
- use of water-soluble soda slag without the corresponding landfill design that would prevent leaching and dust formation
- open storage of slag and ashes of the refining process
- open tipping of residues and wastes such as battery casings and PVC separators.
Workers, too, are exposed to raised levels of harmful substances in such facilities. This generates considerable health risks if appropriate precautionary measures are not taken (respiratory equipment, washing facilities, separate eating and resting rooms, regular examinations, etc.)