US Lead Recycling

Lead Battery Recycling Plants in the U.S.

U.S. lead battery recycling facilities are now subject to the strictest national air emission standards of any country. However, recycling plants in the U.S. are still significant sources of lead emissions and past exposures have resulted in the contamination of hundreds of sites around the country. Self-reported emissions from the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) show significant variability in their reported lead emissions, ranging from 6 to 6,940 pounds (2.7 to 3,148 kg) annually. Emissions from these plants to surface waters range from 0 to 1,673 pounds (759 kg). These differences are not due to plant capacity (which fall within a relatively small range) but reflect differences in pollution control technologies and in state and local permitting requirements.

The Exide Technologies battery recycling plant in Vernon, California was shut down by State regulators in 2015 due to its excessive lead and arsenic emissions which were shown to be contaminating thousands of homes and exposing residents to these dangerous neurotoxins. At one point the plant reported releases of more than 3,400 pounds (1,540 kg) of lead air emissions annually, although levels dropped significantly in its last few years of operation.

California state regulators found lead contaminated soil that extends out in a radius of 1.7 mile (2.7 KM) from the former Exide lead battery recycling plant. An analysis of blood lead levels in the community performed by the California Department of Public Health revealed that children within a one mile radius of the plant had a “moderate increase in risk” and were nearly twice as likely to have elevated blood lead levels than children throughout Los Angeles County.
Although the Exide facility outside Los Angeles was closed, there are still lead battery recycling facilities operating in the U.S. that are releasing thousands of pounds of lead into the air annually that is contributing to soil and dust contamination.

Below is a graph ranking the performance of these facilities based on their reported air emissions (combining stack and fugitive emissions) from 2019:

US Lead Battery Recycling Plant Air Emissions (2019)

The following graph from 2013 illustrates the reductions that these plants have reported since that time. The most polluting plant had reduced its air emissions by 75% during this period.

US Lead Battery Recycling Plant Air Emissions (2013)