Spread of lead acid batteries sparks health risk concerns
RAMESH PRASAD BHUSHAL
KATHMANDU, Aug 7: With the increasing use of lead acid batteries in the country and lack of facilities to recycle hazardous wates, there are growing concerns over potential health risks associated with handling lead.
There are also serious concerns about unregularlized movement of lead from Nepal to India in violation of the country´s international treaty.
Nepal is party to the Basel Convention on the Control of Transboundary Movements of Hazardous Wastes and Their Disposal. But huge amount of lead is taken to India every year with both Nepali and Indian governments turning a blind eye to the growing trade.
"Tons of batteries that become useless should have been piled up in storage facilities but there are no such storage in the country because local traders collect it and send it to India as lead can be fully recycled and reused," said Jiangji Kharel, Researcher on lead acid batteries. "This is illegal." .
Lead is used in vehicles and solar energy systems batteries to restore the charge. A recent study estimated the country´s lead acid battery comsumption could be as high as 75,000 tons per year by 2018 of which about 3,000 tons would be scrap batteries with significant amount of lead that needs to be recycled.
“As a signatory of Basel Convention we should do something about it and not remain silent on the issue,” said Meena Khanal, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Environment, Science and Technology. She added that the ministry has already prepared regulation draft and sent it to the ministry of Law and Justice. It´s a serious issue and the ministry will come up with the mangement plan soon,” she added.
At present more than 5,000 tons of battery are in use, half of which will become useless within this year. “As lead is poisonous, costly to manage and hazadous to human health, Nepal has not bothered when transported to India whereas India doesn´t care about it because it has not ratified Basel Convention and is also a source of income for enterprenuers,” said Ram Charitra Sah, an expert on persistent pollutants and executive director, Center for Public Health and Environmental Development.
The more serious issue of that the use of lead is not just limited to batteries, and are also found in cosmetics, paints and other various daily propose utilities.
Researchers on lead acid batteries say people handling lead without any precaution puts them in huge health risk. “People take it as a general metal and are unaware about its health hazards," said Madhusudhan Adhikari, expert on lead acid batteries at Alternative Energy Promotion Center under MoEST.
“The use of battery is rapidly increasing and its management has not been taken seriously, in few years there could be huge problem of its management if we don´t prepare from now,” added Adhikari.
The Alternative Energy Promotion Center(AEPC) said that it has already started process to establish a first lead recycling plant in the country which cost about Rs 180 million.
“Our research shows that one recycle plant is economically viable in Nepal as we have adequate amount of scrap needed to recycle so are in process to establish it,” said Dr Govinda Raj Pokharel , Executive Director, AEPC. He added that AEPC will support interested private companies and will soon call for expression of interest. “It´s economically viable so we will support to maintain its environmental aspect and any company interested can install the plant to recycle lead,” added Adhikari.
Lead is known to interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including the heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems.
It interferes with the development of the nervous system and is therefore particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behavior disorders and in severe cases ca lead to seizures, coma and death.