March 23, 2023: Clarios has told Batteries International it is investigating claims that its battery recycling operation in Mexico may be contributing to widespread soil lead contamination in the country.
A study released on March 20 by Mexican non-profit Casa Cem and US environmental campaign group Occupational Knowledge International (OKI) alleges used lead batteries exported from the US to Mexico are causing extensive contamination around recycling plants.
According to the study, the average soil lead level around the Clarios Garcia plant — said to import almost half of all the used batteries going to Mexico from the US — is 8,502 parts per million (ppm) or more than 10x local limits.
OKI said data it received from the US Environmental Protection Agency under a Freedom of Information Act request shows exports of used lead batteries from the US to Mexico increased by 18% from 2011 to 2021.
According to OKI, Clarios was responsible for 68% of all US used lead battery exports to Mexico in 2021, the year in which the firm shut its Florence Recycling Center in South Carolina.
The study, ‘Hazardous Exports Contribute to Soil Contamination at Lead Battery Recycling Plants in Mexico’, claims to have found that 57% of soil samples collected from recycling facilities around the country exceeded the limit for industrial areas, with an average lead concentration of 4,897 ppm “or more than six times the Mexican standard of 800 ppm”.
However, the study notes that Mexican regulations “allow for three times greater airborne lead levels “around these industrial facilities than is permitted in the US and condemns Mexico’s poor record of enforcing environmental and occupational health regulations.
Study co-author and Casa Chem executive director Sofia Chavez urged Mexico to bring its environmental and occupational exposure limits and enforcement activities in line with those of the US.
OKI executive director and study co-author Perry Gottesfeld has called on the US to help Mexico improve regulatory standards.
A Clarios spokesperson told Batteries International that the company takes its responsibility for the health and safety of the public and its employees seriously.
“We employ global best-in-class technologies and comprehensive protocols to continuously reduce potential emission sources from our facilities. This applies to our sites worldwide, including our manufacturing and recycling sites in Mexico.”
Strict safety protocols are in place at all Clarios facilities, and the company provides state-of-the-art protective equipment to employees, the spokesperson said.
“In addition to these preventive measures, we routinely measure the work environment and employee exposures to ensure the effectiveness of health measures.”
Clarios also works with local health, safety and environmental agencies to ensure its facilities comply with regulations and set standards for our industry, the spokesperson said.
“We take the issues raised seriously and are looking closely at the claims and statements made.”
Batteries International reported on March 16 that Clarios had been recognized as one of the world’s most ethical companies by Ethisphere.
The batteries giant is also a founding member of the Protecting Every Child’s Potential initiative, launched in October 2020 with Unicef and Pure Earth, a US non-profit organization to help protect children’s health from lead exposure globally.