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Lead exposure will continue until Mexico gets serious about public health

Responding to reports that Mexico’s environmental protection agency will soon propose revised lead emission standards for automobile battery recyclers

(secondary lead smelters), Robert E. Finn, president and CEO of RSR Corporation, whose subsidiaries operate three secondary lead smelters in the U.S., issued the following statement:

“The proposal by Mexico’s environmental agency to limit lead emissions from the country’s secondary lead smelters has so many shortcomings that we question whether Mexico is serious about protecting the workers and communities from the dangers of lead exposure.

“Last year, the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC) recommended in its report on battery shipments to Mexico, entitled, “Hazardous Trade? An Examination of U.S.-generated Spent Lead-acid Battery Exports and Secondary Lead Recycling in Canada, Mexico, and the United States,” that Mexico bring its emission regulation into parity with the United States’ levels. Yet, Mexico’s proposed allowable limit of lead emissions from the exhaust stacks of secondary smelters is 140 times higher than limits in the United States.

“Unlike U.S. regulations, the Mexican proposal only covers stack emissions and does not address fugitive emissions. The failure to minimize and monitor fugitive emissions is another major weakness of Mexico’s proposed rules.

“The fact that the new proposal will not achieve stack emission standards equivalent to current U.S. levels until 2022, combined with Mexico’s weak enforcement of existing lead emission standards, further demonstrates the need for the U.S. government to prevent exports immediately. These weak standards should be proof enough to American companies recycling lead acid batteries in Mexico that the practice is indefensible from an environmental and public health perspective.

“Unless these companies match their rhetoric on environmental stewardship with a commitment to install state-of-the-art pollution control mechanisms in their Mexican smelters, workers and communities will be at risk for greater lead exposure.”

The CEC report estimated that more than 850 million lbs. of spent lead acid batteries are exported to Mexican recyclers each year by U.S. battery makers, recyclers and commodity brokers. Not only does this volume of exports cause significant domestic job losses, but combined with the weak emissions rules present in Mexico, it results in an unacceptable risk to the environment and the health and safety of Mexican workers and their families.

Published in the May 2014 Edition of American Recycler News