Battery of hazards in lead recycling

Battery of hazards in lead recycling

September 08, 2021 By The Connect


A UNICEF report has warned that lead recycling may to pose serious health hazards to 275 million children in India

LUCKNOW, Sep 8 (The CONNECT) – As a UNICEF report has warned that lead recycling may to pose serious health hazards to 275 million children in India, the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) at Kanpur and Madras have joined hands to combat the menace.

Under the partnership, the researchers aimed to find out the appropriate policy instruments that could help India to reduce lead pollution.

According to the IIT Kanpur, the groups joined forces to look collectively at the problem of lead recycling in India as lead pollution could adversely affect the mental and physical health of people and contaminate the environment too.

The workers, who recycle lead in an informal setting, break the lead-acid batteries in a fashion causing spillage of acid and lead dust in the soil and the surroundings. Also, the lead is melted in open furnaces due to which poisonous gases mix with the air.

However, the low operational cost of the process makes it an attractive choice. The presence of the informal sector and its undesirable consequences are predominant in developing countries where the costs and lenient regulations and laws have helped the unregulated sector to proliferate.

Meanwhile, the study has suggested policy guidelines such as reducing tax on regulated recycling and providing subsidies to regulated recycling and remanufacturing to reduce lead pollution from lead-acid battery recycling. The study, however, warned that very high subsidies to the formal remanufacturing sector could also lead to the shutting down of both regulated and unregulated recycling sectors.

The research team included Dr R K Amit, Professor, Department of Management Studies, IIT Madras and an alumnus of IIT Kanpur; Dr B Vipin, Assistant Professor, Department of Industrial & Management Engineering, IIT Kanpur; Dr Janakarajan Ramkumar, Professor, Department of Mechanical Engineering, IIT Kanpur; and Brahmesh Vinayak Joshi from IIT Kanpur.

The team has published the results of their work in the respected international research journal Resources, Conservation and Recycling.

“The current lead-acid battery recycling in India is a complex process involving competition between organised and unorganised sectors with unorganised recyclers having the major share. As the unorganised sector does not pay much attention to the legislations and regulations, the lead emissions are high. In this context, we model the system and analyse the impact of economic policy instruments on lead-acid battery recycling in India to reduce lead emissions,” Dr Vipin and Prof Ramkumar said in their joint statement.

It cited a report by UNICEF titled ‘The Toxic Truth: Children’s exposure to lead pollution undermines a generation of potential’, which estimated that approximately a third of the world’s children, including 275 million Indian children, have higher exposure to lead as their blood lead levels have 5 micrograms per decilitre or more – levels which are hazardous to health.

Although high lead levels are equally harmful to grown-ups, the high levels of lead in children are known to reduce IQ, decrease attention span, cause anaemia, kidney, liver disorders etc.

Lead is used in various industries such as paints, cosmetics, dyes, ammunition, and jewellery, among numerous others, but the battery sector remains the major consumer of this metal by utilising 85 percent of production. Several rules on battery waste management, handling and recycling have been put in place at appropriate times by the respective countries to handle lead pollution.

Recycling was thought as a good way to deal with the scarcity of metal and to handle accompanying pollution. However, the proper recycling of lead is still a concern and it is lagging due to mushrooming of the unregulated battery recycling sector alongside the regulated ones.