RSR criticizes Mexican government over secondary lead smelting regulations

Battery manufacturer claims Mexican environmental regulations are ineffective.

Dallas-based RSR Corp., an operator of three United States secondary lead smelters, has submitted comments to the Mexican government stating that its proposed secondary lead smelting regulations are too weak to deal with the massive volume of used car batteries being recycled in Mexican facilities.

RSR says that each year close to 1 billion pounds of used car batteries leave the U.S. for reclamation in Mexican secondary lead smelters that do not meet basic environmental standards.

Robert Finn, president and CEO of RSR Corp., says, “It is well known and widely accepted among scientists and public health advocates that exposure to lead can cause significant health complications. As currently written the Mexican proposals are weak and ineffective. Mexico can and must do better.”

Finn continues, “In response to numerous independent reports detailing the failings of its secondary lead smelters, Mexican environmental regulators have proposed regulations to improve the environmental performance of the country’s battery recyclers. Unfortunately, the proposed Mexican standards fall woefully short. Not only are the proposed standards inadequate to protect human health and the environment from dangerous emissions but they fail to meet parity with its NAFTA partners,” Finn adds.

Finn suggests to address these failings, Mexico should adopt an approach for monitoring that is in place in the U.S. These standards have been determined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to reduce the risks posed by emissions from secondary lead smelters to acceptable levels, he says.

“If the Mexican government is serious about protecting human and environmental health, it will lower lead emission levels to 0.2 mg/m3 and close the proposed regulations’ following loopholes,” Finn says, including:
  • The buffer zone exemption should be eliminated from the final regulation. It will be impossible to ensure that a facility is in compliance if it is not required to provide perimeter monitoring of its emissions. More importantly, the exemption would put at risk the health of those populations living in proximity to the facility.
  • Despite the serious risks posed by fugitive emissions, the proposed standards for fugitive emissions are virtually nonexistent and will provide little meaningful protection from fugitive sources of lead emissions at secondary lead smelters.
  • Although the proposal requires the use of “confined facilities” and prohibits fugitive emissions from such facilities, the term confined facilities is not defined and there are no standards detailing how to meet the requirement.
RSR’s complaints followed the recent release of a report that addressed the battery recycling industry in Canada, the United States and Mexico. Titled “Hazardous Trade? An Examination of US-generated Spent Lead-acid Battery Exports and Secondary Lead Recycling in Canada, Mexico, and the United States,” the report estimated that more than 850 million pounds of spent lead acid batteries are exported to Mexican recyclers each year by U.S. battery makers, recyclers and commodity brokers. The volume of exports, combined with the weak emissions rules present in Mexico, results in an unacceptable risk to the environment and the health and safety of Mexican workers and their families.

The proposed rule would require facilities to conduct quarterly perimeter monitoring. The rule is generally silent, however, on how that monitoring is to be conducted. Without such detail, there is no assurance that compliance with the standard can ever be demonstrated.