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|Batteries and the Environment|
When we think of products that have a high rate of recyclability, items like glass, plastic, and newspaper usually come to mind. Most of us don’t realize that the same battery chemistry that starts your car, stores power to enhance renewable energy utilization, backups critical data centers, and keeps the warehouse industry moving has one of the highest recycling rates on the planet.
Lead-acid batteries are essentially 100% recyclable. During the recycling process, a battery is separated into three distinct components. The lead is smelted and refined to be used in new batteries. The plastic case is recovered and its material cleaned, and molded into new battery cases. The used acid is even recycled for reuse.
How lead is controlled at battery plants:
Air Filters and Scrubbers
To keep microscopic particles of airborne lead emissions to a minimum, manufacturers and recyclers use high-efficiency air filters and wet scrubbers to filter plant air before it is released into the atmosphere. The filters are inspected and replaced regularly. The filters also are equipped with alarms, and the process is shut down or re-routed should a filter tear or break.
Manufacturers and recyclers capture and treat process water to keep lead out of streams and rivers. The water is tested before it is released to be certain it meets clean water standards.
At recycling plants, air monitors are installed at the perimeter of each property to make sure any lead in the air is below the allowable limit. The limit is 1.5 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air, averaged on a quarterly basis. This is an extremely conservative limit. To illustrate just how stringent this requirement is, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration [OSHA] says a worker inside a plant may be safe even if exposed to 50 micrograms of lead per cubic meter of air every day.
Children can be exposed to lead when a parent who works at a lead plant carries dust home on shoes or work clothes, or in the worker's hair. OSHA regulations require workers in high-lead-exposure areas of the plant to leave work clothes and shoes there and to shower and wash their hair before going home. They also require workers in high-lead areas of the plant to wear a respirator, a device that filters lead particles out of the air a worker breathes. Education programs train workers to wash thoroughly before eating or smoking during lunch or breaks, and to practice other habits that safeguard their health.
Plants have a regular program of exterior vacuuming or washing down paved areas and capturing and treating rainwater runoff. Vehicles that transport lead products typically are hosed down before leaving a facility so that any dust on tires or the vehicle body is not carried to public roads.