Puerto Rico lead recycling site identified as most hazardous

puerto-rico-incinerator1A former lead battery recycling site shut down in 2014 could be added to Puerto Rico’s list of most hazardous sites, the US Environmental Protection Agency confirmed on October 15.

There is no indication yet that this will result in a similar furore and scandal to the forced closure of Exide’s recycling and smelting plant in Vernon, California.

The 16-acre site, at Arecibo, once operated by The Battery Recycling Company Inc (TBRCI), could be added to the US’ Superfund National Priorities List, which contains a list of land contaminated by events such as oil spills and natural disasters.

The land on the list is some of the most contaminated in the world.

The EPA report says small-scale battery breaking and lead smelting began at Arecibo in 1994, before TBRCI increased operations at the facility and became a large-scale secondary smelter, recycling about 55,000 tonnes of used batteries a year and producing an average of 27,500 tonnes of secondary lead.

The report says that between 1996 and 2004, TBRCI improperly stored hazardous waste, violated air emissions regulations, did not correctly manage waste and failed to obtain the required permits.

There were also complaints about the accumulation of batteries and solid waste, the discharge of battery acid into the soil and water, bad odours, acid-like smells and illegal dumping.

“The operations at TBRCI have generated large quantities of battery acid and lead-contaminated waste; improper handling of the hazardous materials and hazardous wastes by the company has led to high levels of lead contamination at and near the facility,” says the EPA report.

Tests of the company’s 100 full-time workers, who carried lead-contaminated dust into their homes and cars on their clothes and boots, and their families revealed blood lead levels of more than 10 micrograms per decilitre, more than twice the five microgram safe level for children, as stated by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

The run-off from the facility also affected cattle pastureland and wetlands nearby, the report said.

“Lead from The Battery Recycling Company, Inc. facility has polluted the air and land in this Arecibo community and even spread to the homes of workers,” said EPA’s Caribbean Environmental Division’s director Carmen Guerrero Pérez.

“Now, by adding the site to the federal Superfund list, the EPA will make cleaning up the Battery Recycling site a national priority.”

In 2012, TBRCI agreed to pay a $115,500 penalty for its violations and spent $3 million on upgrading its facility, but it was in any case shut down in 2014.

The current status of the company is not clear.

EPA public information officer Elias Rodriguez told Batteries & Energy Storage Bulletin: “We only have reports from the field that there are people on site but that battery recycling operations have ceased. We do not have information on their current corporate status — active, inactive, liquidated, merged, etc.”