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Environmental Concerns With Sealed Lead-Acid Batteries

By Rob Callahan ; Updated June 13, 2017

While lead-acid batteries are an affordable and efficient power source, they raise some concerns about the environment and human health. Although car battery recycling is one of the most successful recycling industries, a percentage of batteries still end up in landfills, and while manufacturers are aware of these concerns, they are still often preferred by manufacturers due to the low expense of their production.

Lead Contamination

According to Environment, Health and Safety Online (EHSO), nearly 99 million lead-acid car batteries are produced each year. Each of these contains 18 pounds of lead and one pound of sulfuric acid. While EHSO notes 90 percent of lead-acid batteries are recycled, those that are not will end up in landfills, where they can leak into the surrounding soil and air. This creates an exposure hazard. Lead is highly toxic to humans, and can damage the brain and kidneys, affect your hearing and create significant learning disabilities in children.

Sulfuric Acid

Sulfuric acid can enter the water system and contribute to acid rain, according to an August 6th, 2002 report by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). As this acid flows through the ecosystem, it poses various dangers to the animal and plant life, as well as the soil. Within precipitation, sulfuric acid accelerates the decay of structures and paints, wearing down buildings and landmarks. It also causes damage to trees and acidifies lakes and other water bodies. In the atmosphere, sulfates are among the particulates released into the air, which can harm the public health.

Solid Waste Concerns

A July 7, 2007 article in New Scientists notes that one recycling company in Australia retrieves 60 to 80 batteries per day from a single landfill. This article estimates that a half-million car batteries are discarded in landfills annually just in Australia. In addition to the concerns raised by leaking lead and sulfuric acid, the bulk of a battery’s plastic and other components adds up to consume more land, which could have been used to support humans and natural ecosystems.

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