Research Paper on Lead Battery Recycling

I have links today to a few more research papers. These are all on the topic of lead (pb) poisoning, specifically in the informal sector, but also from mining.  The first paper was published in March 2010.  It leads in a similar direction - certification - as R2 and E-Stewards landed in.
Lead Battery Manufacturing Certification in the Developing World:
Applying BEST Standards in India and Vietnam

Perry Gottesfeld, Executive Director, OK International
Christopher Cherry, University of Tennessee
Good Points:   It is well written and easy to follow.  What is great about the study of lead is that the poisoning is clearly and shockingly visible, the streams are uncomplicated by "added valiue" of reuse, and the quantities are large enough and visible enough to track without major fallacies being carried along for the ride.   I strongly recommend this paper.

Bad Points:  The paper is flawed in that it begins, as it should, with the documentation of lead poisoning as a world phenomenon the number of people poisoned or retarded by it, and how they are concentrated in the developing world.  But it never distinctly makes any connection with lead mining, or with lead by-product from other mining (such as gold, silver, and zinc).  The authors do not say that all poisoning comes from recycled, and none from virgin production.  Unfortunately, by claiming a broad scope of the problem, but only critically approaching the recycled content stream, the paper exposes laypeople and environmentalists to the idea that recycling is bad.  In providing a backdrop of human suffering, it fails to put recycling in its perspective of, at worst, better than mining.

What about Kayah State in Burma, where lead is mined?  Where is that on the diagram?  The diagram shows "informal recycling" decision tree boxes, and "formal recycling" decision tree boxes, but the raw material flows in from one box, as if mining didn't matter.

Most people of my generation can be forgiven for assuming that everyone knows that mining is horrific and disposal is not much better.  We can take constructive criticism about the recycling business in the right way.   However, the press coverage of "e-waste" generally fails to document mining's role, and the laws of supply and demand.  A good research paper would be much start with this:

X = how many lead car batteries are going to be manufactured, based on demand for cars (not on supply of lead).   Of the X:

A%   will be produced from BEST practices
B%   will be produced by primitive, backyard recycling practices
C%   will be produced from mining and refining

A model could be produced which demonstrates the unintended consequences of restricting BEST practices, i.e. that B and C will necessarily increase in proportion to the way A is decreased.

Lead acid batteries are actually a huge success story, in that the recycling community has done a remarkable job of not disposing of them (mostly through free market purchase of ISRI scrap, though waste bans on disposal promote recycling further)..  That recycling creates more jobs per ton, preseves more energy, produces less pollution, and reduces carbon.  We want recycling jobs to be as clean and regulated as possible, so long as the regulation does not produce a decrease in A, an increase in B, or worse, an increase in C.

Another very painful study looks at a single case study of B, recycling of lead batteries in a primitive informal backyard operation in Dakar, Senegal, and chronicles the site and the victims.  Published by NIH in October,  2009, the study is up close and personal.  It is available for purchase, but a good chunk is available to read online.   It's a close up of a tragedy, an autopsy of a village which doomed itself by recycling batteries, resulting in the death of 18 children and widespread other harms.   I do not want to diminish the harm of unsafe recycling practices (B), or the frustration when A-List recyclers are underbid by primitive short-cutter recyclers.

Titanic logical fallacies
But  also look at the July 2010 deaths of children from lead poisoning chronicled by World Health Organization in Nigeria... 100 children poisoned by lead released in a gold mining operation in Zamfara state, 300 deaths total.. and this is not even lead mining, it is lead as a byproduct of mining for a different metal.  Which is worse, to recycle a battery or to buy a gold ring?

The worst lead poisoning in China is NOT in Guiyu, where "e-wastes" are recycled, it is in Yunnan Province, where lead is mined from the ground.

The Case of the Organic Carrot:  The worst methodology study performed on lead recycling got major press. The researcher found lead where it should not be (in paint on toys), and then derivatively examined the chemistry and found that the lead was high in recycled content (A and B).  Recycled content in the mis-use of a product is irrelevant.  (I won't even put a link up to that study).  If a child is impaled with an organic carrot, anyone who blames organic farming for my child's death is either willing to mislead in order to promote a personal agenda, willing to mislead because they think the ends justifies the means, or they just are not the brightest bulb on the Christmas tree.

This EPA publication from 1985, Lead Poisoning: A Historical Perspective, by Jack Lewis (quoted below), describes lead poisoning going back to the Romans... Saturn was the god associated with lead, and he ate his own children because of some prophesy about being killed by his son.  There are numerous interesting ways to explore this in a blog.  But when environmentalists attack recycling without regard to lifecycle analysis, saturnine may be an apt description.

In 1985, I was in Peace Corps, and Jim Puckett and Stephen D'Esposito were at Greenpeace, and we protested things like mining.   It was the little guys versus titans like Renco Group (Ira Rennert, 120 on the list of billionaires, largest home in USA) for the mining pollution (e.g., Doe Run in Peru subject of a 1999 Michael Moore film).  Doe Run in St. Louis, incidentally, is one of the only USA destinations for leaded CRT cullet).  His lead mining empire includes Yunnan province in China (see above).  Now the press is obsessively focused on primitive recycling.

Steve and I learned that it is unfair to attack supply without addressing demand, and best to reward the best available practices, and attack the bottom feeders.  Attacking 80% of A and B recyclers is not sustainable.  Attacking 80% of doctors in a M*A*S*H unit is not management, it's politics. 

This dialectic, argument, discourse, or falling out between environmentalists, is a sign of strength, not weakness.  It will improve our practices, make recycling more careful.  But we have to get the math right, have to get the lifecycle analysis right.  If environmentalists acquire a taste for eating their own recycling children, my posts will remain saturnine.
The ancients regarded lead as the father of all metals, but the deity they associated with the substance was Saturn, the ghoulish titan who devoured his own young. The very word "saturnine," in its most specific meaning, applies to an individual whose temperament has become uniformly gloomy, cynical, and taciturn as the results of lead intoxication.

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