Automaker representatives lobby DTSC to drop potential LAB regulation

Automaker and battery industry representatives have called on California’s authorities to drop plans to make lead acid batteries ‘priority products’, saying in a letter dated December 15 that the move “does not represent a science-based, data-driven approach to remedy any outstanding concerns associated with the product”.

Manufacturers of goods classified as priority products, which so far consist of spray polyurethane foam, paint stripper with methylene chloride and certain children’s foam-padded sleeping products, must perform an Alternatives Analysis, the details of which are laid out in a 235-page document.

Once the AA has been completed, which could take up to two years, the Department of Toxic Substances Control decides its regulatory response — and failure to comply with that could result in the product being taken off the market. One of the stipulations in the AA would be for manufacturers to demonstrate they had sought alternatives to their products.

However, Karl Palmer, chief of the Safer Consumer Products Branch under the DTSC, told BESB the department was willing to work with the lead battery industry, which had responded positively to the proposal and had already carried out a lot of the work that would be needed to complete an Alternative Analysis.

He said there were two main criteria why any product would be treated as a potential priority product: if the chemical concerned had the potential for harm; and if there was potential exposure to that product that could result in a significant or widespread adverse impact on people or the environment.

While recognizing the high recycling rate of lead batteries, Palmer cited the Exide Technologies recycling plant issue at Vernon as one example of possible dangers that had to be borne in mind. (More here.)

In their 16-page joint letter to the DTSC on December 15, the Association of Global Automakers and the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers said there was minimal risk of lead exposure to the public or environment; there were already extensive state and federal regulations addressing lead and LABs; an evaluation of LABs in Europe regularly led to exemptions for LABs under the end-of-life directive; and no widely available alternatives had yet been developed that were functionally acceptable.

The letter cited BCI’s National Recycling Rate Study, released last November, which showed LABs had a recycling rate of 99.3%.

As all electric vehicles require a LAB for their 12V net stabilization, the growth of the EV industry could also be harmed by such a listing, the letter said.

BCI director of strategic communications Lisa Dry said the BCI was encouraging the DTSC to “look beyond the hype of some newer chemistries and their future potential and instead focus on the real benefits delivered by lead batteries today.

“Lead batteries do not meet the program’s criteria of potential exposure or potential adverse impact that must be present to be named a priority product,” she said.

“We also believe that the sustainability aspects of lead batteries are closely aligned with California’s desire to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. For example, start-stop engine technology, made possible by advanced lead batteries, reduces fuel consumption from 3% to 5% depending on driving conditions. By 2020 this same technology will help eliminate two million tons of vehicle greenhouse gas emissions annually in the US.”

The decision as to whether lead batteries will be selected as a priority product should be made by the end of March. But even if they are selected, it did not necessarily mean a death knell to the industry, said Palmer.

“They just need to continue the high level of engagement with us and let us know if they have concerns. If we pick lead-acid batteries as a priority product we are committed to working with them, to going through the process in a transparent, clear, scientifically sound productive manner,” he told BESB.

“We’ve had a good relationship with them so far and we expect that to continue.”