MATTERS ARISING: BATTERY RECYCLING BUSINESS, PUBLIC HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT - Living Environment

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Friday, September 4, 2020

MATTERS ARISING: BATTERY RECYCLING BUSINESS, PUBLIC HEALTH & ENVIRONMENT

Growth in the recycling economy has the potential to not only conserve the environment, but also create over a million new jobs in Nigeria. 


By Edmund Minimah
Public Health and environment concerns are one of the many issues posed to government at all levels, private sector investors and the end product energy-demanding populace. By addressing this challenge, the opportunity to create healthier energy-friendly cities, secure sustainability and ensure that recycling jobs are mutually beneficial, is addressed. 

The main steps in the recycling process are as follows: 

• Collection and transportation of the batteries to a recycling facility
 • Separation of the component parts of the batteries
• smelting and refining of the lead components
• washing then shredding or melting of the plastic components 
• Purification and treatment of the sulfuric acid electrolyte
 • Treatment and disposal of waste 

At each of these stages, lead fumes and dust are released into the air, contaminating both the workplace and the wider environment. The use of automated, enclosed processes with pollution control devices can reduce these emissions. 


Manually breaking up the batteries releases lead particles and lead oxide dust, which are a source of lead exposure to the worker. The dust and particles also settle in the surrounding soil and may be blown to more distant areas, contaminating the wider environment and becoming a source of exposure to the community. 

Manual recycling methods release large amounts
of lead into the environment 

The main routes of exposure and absorption of lead are inhalation, ingestion and, to a much lesser extent, dermal contact. Inhalation of fumes and dust is a major route of exposure for people working with lead. Young children are particularly likely to be exposed through contaminated soil and air-borne household dust because they spend a lot of time in one place, tend to play on the ground, and have frequent hand-to-mouth activity. Children with pica, a compulsion to eat non-food substances, may persistently eat lead-contaminated food. Lead exposure may also occur from consumption of contaminated food and water. Infants and young children absorb proportionately more lead than adults, typically absorbing around 50% of ingested lead compared to around 10% in adults. 
The economic impact of lead exposure is made up of direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include those associated with screening and the medical care of acute and chronic lead poisoning, as well as the provision of special education. Indirect costs reflect the economic burden on society from a variety of factors including reduced intelligence and the consequent reduction in economic productivity and tax revenue. 

At every stage in the recycling process there are measures that can be taken to prevent or reduce the release of lead. Measures that should be taken at battery collection and storage sites include the following;
1. Batteries should not be drained at the collection point. They should be stored securely and sheltered from the weather. The storage location should be well ventilated and the ground should be coated with acid-resistant concrete or other resistant material.
2. Leaking batteries should be placed in acid-resistant containers. The number of stored batteries should be controlled. There should be prominent hazard warnings. Battery collectors should not sell their batteries on to unlicensed lead smelters. 
3. Used lead-acid batteries should be transported as hazardous waste. The batteries should be kept upright and separated by cardboard or other non-conducting material and then placed in sealed containers or otherwise secured, e.g. on pallets covered with shrink wrap, to prevent them moving about. 
To minimize lead exposure and environmental contamination, lead battery recycling should only be conducted at adequately equipped and regulated facilities that have the requisite engineering controls, trained staff, provision of protective equipment, and environmental and occupational monitoring. 

Lead battery recycling should only be conducted at adequately equipped and regulated facilities
 

The most important and effective control measures are engineering and emission controls. However, work practice controls are also needed to protect the health of workers and reduce emissions to the outside.
Engineering controls include the use of fully automated and enclosed operations for the dismantling and separation of lead-acid batteries and the smelting and refining of lead. Fugitive emissions from the various stages of the recycling process can be reduced by the use of negative pressure enclosures, i.e. a sealed area where adequate ventilation is in place to create a negative pressure that is exhausted through an emission control device and/or a high‐efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter to trap particles and dust. The use of hooding and exhaust ventilation over open areas of operation, e.g. battery saws and crushers, furnace feed conveyors and furnace charging points, will trap dusts and fumes. Dust and particle emissions should be trapped in a filter baghouse, by using a wet electrostatic precipitator or by other similar technologies. These traps should be regularly cleaned and the contents fed into the smelter to recover the lead. There should be an effluent treatment station to treat all water used in the recycling process and for cleaning. Rainwater run-off from roofs and other surfaces, which are likely to be contaminated with lead, should also be collected and treated.
It is clear from the control measures that it is not possible for informal recycling to be carried out in an occupationally and environmentally sound way. Preventing informal recycling presents a number of challenges and it is important to take a holistic approach. Recycling is often carried out in a covert way, e.g. at night or in constantly changing locations. Therefore, identifying operations in order to close them down may be difficult. In addition, for people with limited employment opportunities, recycling may provide a critical source of family income with consequent repercussions if it is stopped and no alternative is provided. 
Manufacturers, retailers, scrap dealers, secondary smelters and consumers can each play a part in reducing informal lead-acid battery recycling 
The life-cycle of a lead-acid battery involves manufacturers, retailers, scrap dealers, secondary smelters and consumers. Each can play a part in preventing the supply of used lead-acid batteries to the informal recycling sector. Some suggested approaches include: 


• encouraging the collection of used batteries by licensed retailers when replacement batteries are being bought, for example by requiring a returnable deposit or refund scheme that would price lead batteries at a level closer to the actual intrinsic value of the lead and more than the informal sector would be willing to pay; 
• requiring manufacturers to take back used lead-acid batteries in order to sell them to licensed recyclers (extended producer responsibility); 
• informing consumers about the value of recycling lead-acid batteries and the dangers of dumping or supplying batteries to unlicensed smelters;
•prohibiting the sale of used lead-acid batteries to unlicensed smelters
creating a role for the informal sector e.g. by developing the necessary infrastructure that encourages scavengers to take batteries to licensed smelters

Enforcement of the public health safety control measures described requires a national policy to be put in place for the sound management of used lead-acid batteries that encompasses standards for collection, recycling, emissions, and occupational safety.
For these measures to be successful there is also a need for adequate technical capacities, such as trained inspectors and laboratory facilities for the measurement of lead in biological and environmental samples, as well as appropriate enforcement measures. 

As clearly indicated here, recycling lead-acid batteries must be carried out with care to minimize environmental contamination and protect the health of workers and communities. While much of the responsibility for ensuring the sound management of used lead-acid batteries lies with the environment sector, the health sector must also play its part. This includes ensuring that health-care practitioners have training on, and resources for, the diagnosis and management of lead poisoning, educating local communities on the health hazards of lead, and taking action to inform the responsible authorities when lead poisoning associated with recycling is discovered. Furthermore, the Federal Ministry of Health should aim to ensure the availability of laboratory capacity for blood lead testing and should work with industry to reduce employee exposures.
As we make plans of transition to renewable energy, recycling and re-use of our lead-acid batteries, a holistic health approach should be considered. It shouldn’t appear as a motive to over-regulate or create bottlenecks for the industry but to serve as a guide for the industry to individuals or corporate bodies who engage/intend to engage in the recycling of lead-acid batteries.

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