Old Car Batteries' Deadly Toll in Africa


Car-battery recycling was previously carried out in this flooded area in Thiaroye Sur Mer, Senegal. Photo: The Associated Press

If you had only heard that 18 children had died in a West African town, you would likely have thought the news tragic, but unrelated to your daily life. In the case of Thiaroye Sur Mer, outside of Dakar, that assumption would have been sadly untrue.The deaths of these children, the Associated Press reports, were the result of lead poisoning--a toxin introduced into the area's environment via discarded car batteries. These days, most of the batteries that power our cars are both manufactured and recycled in Third World countries like Senegal, where safety standards are likely to be minimal, if not nonexistent.

In Thiaroye Sur Mer, where townspeople also suffered the loss of much of their livestock, lead became pervasive in the soil after years of workers cracking open car batteries with hatchets and extracting lead to recycle into fishing weights. Recent spikes in the price of lead caused villagers to start sifting the toxic material out of the soil to sell, further spreading the lead dust around.

According to the Associated Press, the mothers and siblings of the dead children "were found to have lead levels of 1,000 micrograms per liter. Just 100 micrograms per liter is enough to impair brain development in children." Though the government did a clean-up after all this was first reported, the World Health Organization says that the area is still very contaminated. And it's hardly a lone example. Deaths from battery-related lead poisoning have been reported in China and Vietnam as well. As if we needed another reason to drive less. Via: "Lead for car batteries poisons an African town," MSNBC/The Associated Press

More about the health hazards of cars:
Growth in Beijing Automobile Population Putting Kids At Risk
HealthyCar.org: The Consumer Guide to Toxic Chemicals in Cars
Confirmed: Air Quality Worse Inside Cars
Beware: That New Car Smell is Toxic!

Tags: Africa | Batteries | Developing Nations | Pollution | Recycling