November 8, 2023: Inadequate pollution controls and extensive lead contamination has been discovered at three licensed lead battery recycling plants in Cameroon, according to a study released on November 7.
The CREPD/OK International Study* — Investigation of Soil Contamination at Lead Battery Recycling Plants in Douala, Cameroon — says contamination levels in soil ranged up to 7.6% lead inside the plants and up to 15% lead at the facilities’ fence line.
Lead levels at the plants averaged 22,952 parts per million (ppm) or greater than 2% lead, the study says, adding that levels above 80 ppm (0.008%) are considered unsafe for children.
CREPD executive director Gilbert Kuepouo said the study found that government regulations and enforcement capacity “are inadequate to protect workers and children from excessive lead exposures”.
Testing was also undertaken in surrounding neighbourhoods. Some of the plants are next to agricultural land and others are in dense residential areas, he said.
An earlier study focused on the lead recycling industry in Cameroon and six other African nations, published in 2018, found similar problems with the plants, Kuepouo said.
“Our recent testing showed that even newly-approved battery recycling facilities in Douala lack proper equipment and are causing extensive contamination.”
Kuepouo called for lead battery recyclers in the region to be legally obliged to report air emission data annually.
OK International executive director and one of the study’s authors, Perry Gottesfeld, said: “Cameroon has been too lax in allowing these companies to set up local operations without first ensuring that measures are in place to control hazardous emissions.”
*The study is online.
CREPD (Centre de Recherche et d’Education pour le Développement) is a Cameroon-based non-governmental organization focused on health and environmental issues.
Occupational Knowledge International (OK International) is a US-based NGO that supports developing countries in identifying, monitoring and mitigating environmental and occupational exposures to hazardous materials.
Batteries International reported last year that the International Lead Association was joining an international review of battery recycling standards under the Basel Convention.
In May 2022, the ILA welcomed new procedures published by Ghana’s government to improve battery recycling operations in the West African nation.
The new standard operating procedures were developed in cooperation with organizations that included the ILA, Battery Council International and EUROBAT.