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OK International Calls for Halt in Used Car Battery Exports To Mexico Until Environmental Standards Improve

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SAN FRANCISCO--December 9, 2011: U.S. companies, which ship millions of used lead batteries to Mexico each year, should stop these exports immediately because they are contributing to lead poisoning among workers and children living near recycling plants, Perry Gottesfeld, executive director of the nonprofit organization, Occupational Knowledge International (OK International), said today.

“It is remarkable that both governments allow U.S. companies to export batteries to Mexico where there is neither the regulatory capacity nor the technology in place to recycle them safely.”

Gottesfeld, co-author of an investigation which found American exports of used batteries to Mexico more than doubled last year following the adoption of new lead air standards in the U.S., was the primary source for the New York Times exposé published today about lead hazards from Mexican battery recycling operations.

He urged private companies and government agencies to voluntarily halt lead battery exports to Mexico and any other country with environmental and occupational standards, which are inferior to U.S. laws governing battery recycling operations.

He pointed out that the less stringent environmental and occupational safety regulations in Mexico make it more profitable for companies to ship used lead batteries to Mexico to be recycled than to process them in the U.S.

"Our investigation revealed that used car batteries from the U.S. are contributing to higher lead emissions in Mexico due to shoddy recycling practices," he said. "There are blatant deficiencies in regulations and environmental protections in the Mexican recycling industry compared to U.S. standards."

OK International is calling for these additional actions to immediately address this hazard from American exports:

  • The U.S. government should work within the environmental framework under the North American Free Trade Act (NAFTA) to pressure the Mexican government to regulate the lead battery recycling industry with standards equivalent to those in the U.S.
  • The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency must institute a manifest system to track individual hazardous waste shipments of used batteries to their destination in Mexico as it does for all other types of hazardous waste.
  • The U.S. Government Accountability Office should investigate how this trade in hazardous waste is continuing while it is clear that Mexican plants are operating with inferior controls and why these shipments are leaving the U.S. without any system to track them to their destination.

The New York Times story published today is based on an investigation conducted by OK International that documented, for the first time, the significant increases in U.S. battery exports to Mexico and the hazards these exports pose. The investigation, which is summarized in a report entitled "Exporting Hazards: U.S. Shipments of Used Lead Batteries to Mexico Take Advantage of Lax Environmental and Worker Health Regulations," found that:

  • Approximately 12 percent of used lead batteries generated in the U.S. are exported to Mexico.
  • Actual airborne lead emissions reported by battery recycling plants in Mexico are approximately 20 times higher than comparable plants in the U.S.
  • The amount of lead exported to Mexico in used batteries is double the amount exported by the U.S. in all other electronic waste (e-waste).

"Our report found significant disparities in the regulatory systems and the environmental performance of this industry in Mexico and the United States," said Gottesfeld. "It is remarkable that both governments allow U.S. companies to export batteries to Mexico where there is neither the regulatory capacity nor the technology in place to recycle them safely."

Lead batteries are used extensively in autos, trucks, forklifts and golf carts, as well as for uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems for computers, servers and telecommunications equipment.

The report by OK International and its Mexican partners at Fronteras Comunes may be viewed by clicking here. For more information about the report or OK International, please visit OK International or contact:

OK International
Laura Mecoy

About Occupational Knowledge International (OK International)

OK International is a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to improving public health in developing countries through innovative strategies to reduce exposures to industrial pollutants. Based in the U.S., the organization works in partnership with governments, businesses and NGOs to address inequities in environmental standards. The focus of OK International's work includes efforts to prevent lead poisoning from exposures to lead battery manufacturing, battery recycling, and mining and to eliminate the use of lead in paint. The organization has worked in India, China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Cameroon, Senegal and Mexico.