“There is no occupational physician alive who would say that this is an adequate standard or ‘world class,’” he said.
Johnson Controls says it operates a “closed loop recycling system” that never allows spent batteries outside of its control, even as they cross international borders.
There is, however, a black market in batteries, driven in part by Chinese demand for batteries and the rise in prices that’s driven for recycled lead.
In late January, authorities seized 37 tons of used batteries at a ramshackle lot in Ciudad Juarez, a border city across from El Paso, Texas. The owner of the lot said he planned to take spent batteries to Nuevo Leon state, home of Monterrey, for recycling but declined to say if the batteries had come from the United States.
The huge gap between U.S. and Mexico on lead emissions dates to 2008, when science advisers told the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to tighten standards for airborne lead particles. The change was implemented, cutting the allowable standards of lead concentrations to a tenth of the previous standard, which had not been altered in three decades.
“It’s certainly increased costs,” said Bruce Cole, executive vice president of Exide Technologies, a battery recycler based in Milton, Ga., which once operated six recycling factories in the United States. The firm closed a plant in Frisco, Texas, in November and will idle a plant in Reading, Pa., by the end of this month.
To meet the tougher standards, Cole said, “we’ve had to make very significant investments in all facilities. They include environmental control systems, facility enclosures (and) putting buildings under negative pressure so that emissions can’t get out.”
The withering report by the Commission on Environmental Cooperation was sent to Ottawa, Washington and Mexico City in February, Coronado said, and the three governments are expected to vote on its findings by April 5.
Even if the three nations harmonize rules, Mexico has a long way to go to ensure compliance. The commission’s report said Mexican regulators fail to measure stack emissions at smelters, collect adequate air quality data or enforce that recyclers report lead emissions.
The panorama, the panel said, “is an alarming portrait of a virtually nonexistent regulatory regime” in Mexico.
Jacott, the Mexican toxic waste activist, still holds out for a simple dream.
“We just want the environmental and health rules to be the same here as in the United States,” she said.