African battery recycling plants poison communities with lead
Battery recycling plants in seven African countries pose a danger to the communities around them because of extensive lead contamination‚ a new study warns.
Lead pollution is a public health hazard and the levels tested far exceeded the safety threshold for children.
Battery recycling is a growth industry on the continent because batteries are needed for cellphone towers‚ vehicles‚ home use and to store solar and wind energy.
Researchers tested areas around 16 industrial facilities in Cameroon‚ Ghana‚ Kenya‚ Mozambique‚ Nigeria‚ Tanzania‚ and Tunisia for the report‚ published on Wednesday in the Journal of Environmental Research.
Lead levels in soil ranged up to 48‚000 parts per million (ppm) with an average of 2‚600ppm. Levels below 80ppm are considered safe for children.
Lead author Perry Gottesfeld‚ executive director of Occupational Knowledge International‚ said: “There is an immediate need to limit lead emissions from this industry and to test children’s exposure levels in nearby communities.”
Most African countries did not have labs that can test blood lead levels routinely. “This study demonstrates that even large-scale recycling facilities are significant sources of lead contamination‚” he said.
In 2015 the Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Los Angeles‚ US‚ was shut down after being exposed for contaminating soil up to 2.7km from the site‚ and another author of the new study‚ Gilbert Kuepouo‚ said: “One of the two facilities tested in Cameroon is located within approximately 100 metres of a high school and residential district with 30 000 inhabitants.”
Lead exposure levels among Cameroonian children were five times higher than in French children‚ and six times higher than in American children‚ a recent study found.
The scientists urged governments to require lead manufacturing and recycling industries to designate funds to ensure no soil contamination is left behind when they close‚ and to disclose their air emissions.
In 2017 the UN Environment Assembly adopted a resolution to encourage governments “to do more to control hazardous lead emissions from lead battery recycling”.