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The Toxic Toll of Indonesia's Battery Recyclers

May 31, 2016

The Toxic Toll of Indonesia's Battery Recyclers

Richard C. Paddock
PUBLISHED MAY 31, 2016

KEBASEN, INDONESIA Smoke billows from the chimney of the small battery smelter, carrying particles of lead, plastic, and sulfuric acid into the air. More dense smoke pours from the open furnace into the smelter’s main room, threatening to engulf two workers as they shovel the lead cells of car batteries into the glowing fire.

The gray cloud drifts over the countryside in Central Java, landing on rice fields and villages. Nearby residents complain that the haze burns their eyes, makes them dizzy, and gives them headaches.

“We are upset about the smoke,” says Samsuri, 40, who lives in the farming village of Tegalwangi, about half a mile from the recycling compound, run by Lut Putra Solder. “It makes it difficult to breathe and sometimes makes us sick.”

The Garuda Jaya plant in Kebasen is one of three battery smelters operating at the compound on the outskirts of the Central Java city of Tegal. None has scrubbers on the chimneys to trap the lead dust or other hazardous materials. Nor do they have permits to operate, authorities say.

Smelters like this are notorious for emitting high concentrations of lead and other toxic substances into the air. Lead, a major component of vehicle batteries, has long been known to harm brains, with even low doses linked to learning and behavioral problems in children.

Read more at National Geographic.

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