Unauthorized production of lead acid batteries endanger environment, say experts

An uncontrolled growth of Illegally made lead acid batteries and their recycling across the country is posing a great threat to environment and public health, according to officials and environmentalists.

The unauthorized business continues unabated due to the absence of any comprehensive plan and effective watchdog mechanism, they said.

The Department of Environment (DoE), the environment watchdog, can do little with its only 11 designated officials to deal with over 500 illegal recycling and manufacturing plants, official sources said.

The DoE, however, promulgated a new gazette notification on Feb. 25 this year replacing its old one of 2006 to check the illegal business through some mandatory provisions, but its inadequate logistics made no major impact on the industry.

Environmentalists found the latest DoE move a feudal practice that fails to yield any expected result because of the lack of coordinated and comprehensive plan in its enforcement mechanism.

Battery industry insiders said currently there are over 500 illegal battery recycling and 35 illegal manufacturing plants in operation across the country.

These came up in last 15 years as the batteries were in high demand for multiple uses, particularly in battery-run easybikes, solar power, industries and motor vehicles.

According to the environmentalists a good number of the unauthorized plants were set up by some Chinese nationals who came to the country on travel visa and got involved in the business in connivance with their local partners.

A big number of these plants were set up in Gazipur, Savar and Demra area while others are in other parts of the country.

On the other hand, as per statistics of Accumulators Battery Manufacturers & Exporters Association of Bangladesh (ABMEAB), there are 24 legally-set up battery manufacturing industries of which five have recycling processing facilities meeting the government’s compliances.

Sharif Jamil, General Secretary of Bangladesh Paribesh Andolon (BAPA), a platform of environmentalists, observed that frequent disposal of lead acid battery at open places by battery sellers and illegal recyclers leads to a serious air pollution posing a great risk to human body.

Experts said lead acid batteries are made up of plates of lead and separate plates of lead dioxide, which are submerged into an electrolyte solution of about 38% sulphuric acid and 62% water.

If the batteries are melted in open places without following modern disposal and recycling system, they said, it interferes with a variety of body processes and is toxic to many organs and tissues including heart, bones, intestines, kidneys, and reproductive and nervous systems.

They also said lead interfered with the development of the nervous system and was, therefore, particularly toxic to children, causing potentially permanent learning and behaviour disorders.

Symptoms include abdominal pain, confusion, headache, anaemia, irritability, and in severe cases, seizures, coma and death. Routes of exposure to lead include contaminated air, water, soil, food, and consumer products.

The environmentalists said the recent introduction of solar home system and electric vehicles had given a big boost to the use of lead acid batteries, which prompted a number of local and foreign national firms to come into the battery manufacturing business.

Recent closure of about 3000 battery manufacturing plants in China also played a big role in setting up business by Chinese nationals, said a top official at the DoE.

According to battery industry insiders more than 5 million units of batteries are used annually by different sectors in Bangladesh with its 10% growth rate.

Director General of DoE Md Ashraf Uddin admitted the existence of illegal battery recycling and manufacturing business and said his department launches drives frequently against their operators through mobile court across country and file cases on regular basis.

“But on many occasions, the actual owners of these illegal business remain untraceable as they are not found on the spot during our operations”, he told UNB.

He also claimed that the recently promulgated new regulations will play a major role in checking the illegal business as it made mandatory for business operators to meet some compliances to run their business—either in the sales, disposal, recycling or manufacturing.

He, however, expressed his limitations in enforcement of the new law because of lack of adequatelogistics as the DoE has only 11 officials to deal with the matter across the country.

The BAPA general secretary said the DoE’s move will not be able to improve the situation unless there is any comprehensive plan with necessary logistics with strong commitment.

“First of all, the government needs to change its current mind set to deal with the matter”, said Sharif Jamil.

About the illegal recycling and manufacturing, an official of ABMEAB said some Chinese nationals come to the country and collect a primary permission from Bangladesh Investment Development Authority (BIDA) and start business without any compliance.

He said the issue was discussed in a tripartite meeting of BIDA, DoE and battery manufacturers, but no positive response came from the BIDA to check this illegal business.

ABMEAB President Munawar Misbah Moin said illegal battery operators not only harm environment and public health, but it also hurt the tax-paying legal plant operators.

Source: United News of Bangladesh