September 10, 2020: The Environmental Protection Agency of the Australian state of Victoria on August 31 approved the construction of a recycling plant by Chinese secondary lead firm Chunxing in a first step towards the firm being given permission.
The facility in the Latrobe Valley, west of Melbourne, will be able to recycle 50,000 tonnes used of lead-acid batteries a year and produce 28,000 tonnes of refined lead.
The company says the facility will be a ‘full secondary lead smelter facility, which will produce recycled lead products’. The firm claims that: “Around 98% of the materials in a used battery will be recycled — this includes contents such as lead, plastic and electrolyte (sulfuric acid).”
Australian national broadcaster ABC reported that residents were protesting about the site with fears of pollution, for which the firm made headlines 12 years ago in China.
In a Q&A page on its website Chunxing has sought to allay fears about the Australian project, promising that lead emissions from the new site in a worst-case model would be 300 times lower than EPA standards.
“This worst-case result falls within the boundary of the Chunxing facility,” it claims. “At the nearest residences (approximately 1.5km from the stack emission point) the emissions are virtually zero (1,500 times lower than EPA standards), which is undetectable by field monitoring equipment.”
Chinese newspaper reports in 2008 said its facility in Pizhou, Jiangsu Province, had poisoned 41 children in the village of Xinsanhe.
Then named the Chunxing Alloy Group, the firm expanded near the village, generating large amounts of dust, says the NGO Environmental Justice Atlas.
Wastewater containing lead and other heavy metals then began to flow into a nearby river and into the groundwater, contaminating villagers’ crops.
After months of protests and petitions to the authorities, villagers eventually succeeded in getting treatment for their children and forcing the plant to be relocated. The firm didn’t move far — just to the Pizhou Renewable Economy Industrial Park — where it resumed operations under the new name Chunxing Resource Recycling Co Ltd.
Chunxing has facilities in Thailand and Pakistan as well as China and is carrying out feasibility studies in the US, Poland and Mexico.
“Chunxing is striving to become the largest secondary lead group in the world,” it says.
Latrobe City Council will consider whether to grant planning permission for the facility at a meeting on September 17.