The lead industry in North America is facing some of the biggest threats to its existence as a perfect storm of extremely bad news and regulatory challenges come to a climax in the next few months, David Weinberg, legal advisor to Battery Council International, told its 2016 annual meeting last week.
Weinberg, recognised as one of the USA’s leading environmental law specialists, said the PR storm was probably the worst he had seen in his 30-year relationship with the industry body.
The story, which began with the Flint Michigan lead-in-drinking water scandal, has conflated with California’s post-Vernon smelter clean-up costs and culminated in a manifesto promise from Hilary Clinton to ” ban lead usage within five years”.
And below these headline challenges a raft of regulatory changes which, if implemented, could cost the industry billions of dollars.
While Weinberg appeared unfazed by the Clinton threat, the Californian challenge has all the hallmarks of a political quagmire which could cost the lead industry yet more money in as yet uncosted and potentially unquantifiable costs, taking on so-called “Superfund” dimensions— making the whole north American lead-acid industry responsible for the clean-up of Vernon.
The California state has already approved $176.6 million in funding for environmental testing and clean-up work in neighbourhoods surrounding the now closed Exide Technologies battery-recycling plant in Vernon.
The funding would pay for the testing of residential properties, schools, day care centres and parks within a 1.7-mile radius of the plant, and fund cleaning of as many as 2,500 properties with the highest lead levels.
But lobbyists are already demanding testing and clean-up over a wider area, which could push costs up to US$0.5bilion and maybe more.
And the state governor is pushing the state’s Department of Toxic Substances to carry out a much wider review of lead-acid batteries through a Hazardous Waste Reduction Initiative.
The analysis could result in identifying lead batteries as a “Priority Product” under the Safer Consumer legisalation, which will require manufacturers to evaluate the product’s health impacts and consider ways to minimise these impacts.
Theoretically, such work could lead to a ban on lead-acid battery manufacture and even use within the sunshine state, and while that seems unlikely, the work will tie up battery industry expertise for a considerable period. The first report is due to be published in June.
There will be a detailed report in the Summer (July) issue. Subscribe here to make sure you don’t miss it.