Batteries contain heavy metals such as mercury, lead, cadmium, and nickel, which can contaminate the environment if not recycled properly. When incinerated, certain metals might be released into the air or can concentrate in the ash produced by the combustion process.
Currently, most batteries collected through household battery collection programs are disposed of in hazardous waste landfills. In landfills, heavy metals have the potential to leach slowly into soil, groundwater or surface water. Dry cell batteries contribute about 88 percent of the total mercury and 50 percent of the cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream. In the past, batteries accounted for nearly half of the mercury used in the United States and over half of the mercury and cadmium in the municipal solid waste stream. When burned, some heavy metals such as mercury may vaporize and escape into the air, and cadmium and lead may end up in the ash.*
Landfills can leak. Toxic chemicals leaking from landfills are bad for people. Its almost that simple. Its gets more complicated when you start looking at who is most affected by leaking landfills.
Communities that live close to landfills are disproportionately endangered by the toxic chemicals that may leach from them. Historically, poor and minority communities have been located in close proximity to landfills and therefore have been burdened by a large share of the environmental impacts caused by toxins in landfills. These communities have looked to the law for remedies
Many states have regulations in place requiring some form of battery recycling. California mandates recycling for almost all battery types The U.S. Congress passed the Mercury-Containing and Rechargeable Battery Management Act in 1996 to make it easier for rechargeable battery and product manufacturers to collect and recycle Ni-CD batteries and certain small sealed lead-acid batteries.*
When government doesn't have the correct mechanisms or fails to enforce them citizens suits are also an avenue for redress. The case of the Dickson County Landfill in Tennessee is a prime example of how communities have been damaged by toxic landfill leaks. In March 2008 the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and two residents of Dickson, Tennessee, filed a lawsuit against the Dickson County and City governments. The Complaint alleges that an industrial chemical disposed at the Dickson Landfill that has been linked to neurological and developmental harm and cancer, poses an imminent and substantial endangerment to human health and the environment.**
One way to prevent personally generated toxins from reaching landfills is to not use them. If you do, then recycle those batteries. The NYC Department of Sanitation operates Self Help Special Waste Drop-Off Sites in every borough for the collection and recycling (or proper disposal) of batteries. Check out NYDOS site for more info.
If you want to get involved in working with communities that are adversely impacted by the sorts of issues that toxic chemicals in landfills pose as a good place to start would be to check out organizations like WeAct, the Environmental Justice Resource Center and Green For All.
Information from this Tip of the Week retrieved from:
Written by Patrick Foster