No slam dunk on spent American car batteries getting recycled sustainably – one year on

A little over a year ago, I wrote about used car-battery recycling and that a good deal of the recycling of used batteries from cars in America was being heaped on places like Mexico in terms of that type of work being done.

As Tim Johnson, a McClatchy Newspapers correspondent in: “As U.S. tightens rules on lead emissions, battery recycling has moved to Mexico,” explained: “Mexico has won a leg up for a reason: Its lead emissions standards are one-tenth as stringent as U.S. standards. Mexican factories can ignore strict U.S. regulations that cap harmful lead emissions onto factory floors and into the air.”

Meanwhile, in “No slam dunk on spent American car batteries getting recycled sustainably,” I added: “Not a very comforting thought, especially when one considers, ‘Scientists now say that exposure to lead – even in minute quantities – can lead to cardiovascular disease, kidney damage and neurological disorders. Ten months ago, the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention determined that ‘there is no safe level of lead.’’

“If this is, in fact, fact, it would seem U.S. car battery disposal would be handled in the most responsible way, which means also, the most sustainable way.”

Not so, it seems, as according to article authors Jessica Garrison and Abby Sewall in the Los Angeles Times newsstory: “L.A. County to create toxic pollution ‘strike team’,” it would appear the Exide battery recycling facility in Vernon, California is an emitter of toxic pollutants.

The L.A. Times authors noted that as of a Mar. 11, 2014 vote, supervisors in Los Angeles County, California approved the creation of a “strike team,” a team that itself includes “health officials, prosecutors, fire department officials and others,” assembled for the purpose of identifying county-based, toxic-pollutant emitters – “the first being the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon.”

Garrison and Sewall then went on in the same L.A. Times piece to state: “The board’s action came a day after state officials released reports showing that elevated levels of lead have been found in the soil of homes and a preschool near the plant.”

Residents of neighborhoods nearest the plant, namely Boyle Heights and Maywood, were warned by officials to avoid contact with “bare soil” and those growing vegetable crops, were advised to do so “in raised beds” only, according to information brought out in the L.A. Times article in question.

To many, such warnings are no doubt unsettling, that is, if not downright alarming. I just don’t see how this could not be the case!

But the uncertainty of not knowing what lies ahead in terms of finding and implementing a mitigating resolution as I see it can do nothing but further compound matters. It could be that the instituted fix – provided there is one – could be comprehensive and thorough as in permanent closure of the plant or could involve something that is much more complex in nature.

In the broader sense and as cited in the L.A. Times story by Garrison and Sewall, “‘The real proof will come once we see what this team can accomplish,’ [Adrian] Martinez [an Earthjustice lawyer] said. ‘If we start seeing results, and cracking down on really bad polluters, then I think we should applaud them.’”

This could indeed be unprecedented. And then again, Martinez, just as before and cited once more in the same article, no less and in no uncertain terms, was quick to point out: “‘But there is a lot more work we need to see.’”

What I and am sure others are hoping for is a highly favorable outcome that is satisfactory to all concerned, hopefully one that is sustainable too.

– Alan Kandel