EPA Region 2 has reached an agreement with The Battery Recycling Company in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, requiring the company to take measures to prevent lead contamination from spreading, after dozens of children were found to have lead in their blood at levels that could pose health problems.
Operations at Battery Recycling are being investigated under multiple environmental laws, the EPA said.
The agreement to keep lead from leaving the facility on the work clothes and vehicles of employees, and to carry out a major cleanup at adjacent property and employee homes, requires the company to reimburse EPA for the costs of overseeing the cleanup work. The measures include the temporary evacuation of employees from homes.
The agreement follows on the heels of lead testing of about 150 children who may have been exposed to lead from the Battery Recycling facility; 20 percent of the children had lead in their blood above levels considered a problem among health professionals. Lead is a toxic metal that can impair a child’s ability to learn and cause a range of health problems in adults, according to the EPA.
The Battery Recycling Company recycles used motor vehicle batteries and produces approximately 30 tons of lead per day.
The Battery Recycling Company has had a Title V permit to operate as a stationary source of air pollutants since October 2005. The permit issued by the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board was explicitly valid for five years, but it also includes an automatic renewal provision, as long as the lead-smelting company would provide a renewal form at least 12 months before the expiration date.
The permit spells out that the facility is required to submit compliance data annually to the Air Quality Board in San Juan, and the EPA office in Santurce. The operations are considered a minor source of emissions, but because of the hazardous nature, the Title V permitting is required.
According to the permit, the Battery Recycling Company pays for its pollutants according to this schedule of allowable emissions, in tons per year – PM at 20.39, SO2 at 59.68, NO-x at 9.58, CO at 1.26, VOC at 0.60, and lead at 1.24 – but these values are not the data for factory’s actual emissions.
The news release from the EPA does not include data about actual emissions levels, but EPA Regional Administrator Judith A. Enck said in the statement: “EPA is very concerned about the extent of lead contamination from the Battery Recycling facility, and is especially concerned because children have been exposed to this toxic metal.” Region 2 oversees New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and eight tribal nations.
The company website says that the factory, which was founded in 1994, operates year-round, 24 hours a day, recycling around 55,000 metric tons of used car batteries a year, mostly from Puerto Rico and the Caribbean. Its average annual production of secondary lead is of 27,500 metric tons.
The EPA agreement requires Battery Recycling to start preventative and cleanup actions at multiple points.
EPA has hired an expert to review facility operations and provide recommendations to the company on methods to keep lead from leaving the property. In the short term, workers will have access to a clean area for changing clothes and lockers to prevent them from bringing lead into their homes and cars. The company will install a temporary decontamination station for vehicles entering and leaving facility processing areas.
Battery Recycling will also clean lead-contaminated vehicles and homes of current and former employees and EPA will take samples after the cleaning to ensure that the lead has been removed. Rental cars will be provided and employees and their families will be temporarily relocated while the cleaning takes place.
In addition, Battery Recycling will excavate and remove lead-contaminated soil from a cattle pasture adjacent to the facility, backfill or restore the land, and dispose of any contaminated materials at a licensed disposal facility.