Battery industry targeted in fight against lead pollution

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 02 April, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 02 April, 2011, 12:00am

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The battery industry will be the target of a major central government crackdown on heavy-metal pollution, a problem that has made many people ill in recent years.

At a national conference on pollution control on Monday, the Ministry of Environmental Protection decided that heavy-metal pollution would be the focus of its work this year, with the reinforcement of regulations in the battery industry the top priority.

More than 130 villagers in Taizhou, Zhejiang province, were found to have elevated lead levels in their blood in the past two months, with investigators pinning the blame on a battery factory near their homes. And lead was found in the blood of more than 200 children living near a battery factory in Anhui province in January.

Each year on the mainland, 12 million tonnes of grain is polluted by heavy metals, an amount equal to the annual grain output of Guangdong province, the Nanfang Daily reported, citing statistics from the Ministry of Land Resources.

'The remediation technology for contaminated soil today still has a long way to go,' it quoted Professor Li Zhian , from the Chinese Academy of Sciences' South China Botanical Garden, as saying.

'It takes at least two to three years to bring contaminated soil back to arable status ... if no remediation is conducted, the heavy metal could remain in the soil for decades, and lead, for instance, could remain for 100 years.'

Ma Tianjie, the pollution control project co-ordinator at the Beijing office of environmental NGO Greenpeace, said battery production was believed to be a major cause of heavy-metal pollution.

'Lead-acid batteries, which are being produced and used on a large scale, are an especially big contributor to lead pollution,' he said.

CAS analytical chemist Yang Yusheng said loose regulation of the lead-acid battery production chain on the mainland led to pollution, all the way through from the mining of lead to the recycling of batteries.

During the recycling process, 'the recovery rate of lead is low while energy consumption is high'.

He said that even though the mainland now had better technology available that meant 98.5 per cent of lead could be recovered from a used lead-acid battery, it had not been widely adopted due to a lack of financial support from the government.

Without that support, he said, 'a great number of scientific researchers have to change their research area, big companies have to spend big money buying technologies from overseas and smaller ones resort to crude and simple methods to keep costs low - leading to environmental pollution'.

Statistics from the China Battery Industry Association show that the mainland manufactures half of the world's batteries.

It is also the world's biggest consumer of lead, the key component in lead-acid batteries needed for the mainland's growing number of vehicles.

The government has encouraged people to separate batteries when disposing of their daily waste, but very few are discarded properly.