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Hazardous chemical present in Batteries and their impact on Environment and Humans

“Hazardous chemical present in Batteries and their impact on
Environment and Humans”
Arvind Kumar Swarnakar1, Dr. (Mrs.) Shweta Coubey2
1Scholar, Master of Engineering, Environmental Science and Engineering, Bhilai Institute of Technology,
Durg, C.G., India. Mail Id-
2 Professor , Applied Chemistry, Bhilai Institute of Technology, Durg, C.G., India. Mail Id-
The batteries are used in many different things and are a very important asset for this modern
world. However, the greatest environmental concern surrounding batteries is the impact they
have at the end of their lives. The hazardous impact of batteries on human health and
environment are very high. The specific forms of materials used in batteries as well as the
relative amounts present in it will establish the risks associated with that particular battery
system. The various types of chemicals used in batteries have varied effects on human life and
environment. However, the degree to which such batteries are collected and recycled after their
useful life may largely mitigate any such adverse effects. It is estimated that around 94 per cent
of dead batteries end up in landfill and this is where the most serious problems start. Incineration
and Landfill disposal options are not sufficient. In particular, they can cause soil, water pollution,
and endanger wildlife. Use of acids materials, PVC cover, corrosive electrolytes, and highly
ignitable explosive materials became an issue for human health impact and environment.
Literature shows that Batteries are identified as a problem material in the waste stream. Batteries
are made from a variety of chemicals to power their reactions. Some of these chemicals, such as
nickel and cadmium, are extremely toxic and can cause damage to humans and the environment.
The present paper discusses the hazardous chemicals present in batteries and their ill effects on
environment and human.
Keywords: -Hazardous, chemicals, Toxic, Batteries.
The cutting edge technologies are starving for more and more energy requirement and have
making the daily life more dependent and their sources. Although, the power generations is not
the only issue, but preserve this power is the real challenge for the modern technologist. From a
long time, batteries of various types are the one of the main source of power generation and
storage. The widely use of different types of batteries in our daily life are very eminent and
visible in our daily life such as vehicles, computers, laptops, radios, MP3 players, mobile phones,
watches and clocks etc.. A battery is a simple assembly of different parts made of different
materials including metal, ceramics, polymers and chemicals etc. with relatively small to large
amount depending on the capacity. Among these substances few may contains hazardous and
toxic properties on the health and environment with local or even global impacts beyond the
local scale of releasing. Therefore, after the lifespan of these batteries, the ways of proper
disposals is becoming a gigantic challenge to majorities of developed and developing countries
due to their direct environmental and health hazards. Hence, the specific forms of materials used
in batteries as well as the relative amounts present, are the key factors to establish the risks
associated with that particular battery system.
The batteries can be classified into two categories including primary and secondary battery. The
primary batteries are disposable batteries and requirements of chemical depend on voltage,
whereas secondary batteries are rechargeable. A flow sheet is given below with another
classification of batteries, which divides the batteries in two categories including physical and
Figure 1. Different types of battery.
Types of Chemical used in batteries
The primary batteries (non -chargeable) uses various types of chemicals such as zinc carbon,
zinc chloride, alkaline, lithium with Cu O, FeS2, MnO2, CrO2, mercury oxide, silver oxide, and
magnesium etc.
The secondary Batteries (Re-Chargeable) contains chemical like Ni-Cd, lead acid, Ni-Mh, Ni-
Zn, Ag-Zn , lithium Ion etc.
Lithium has many industrial applications (reviewed in Birch, 1988). Lithium does not have a
known biological use and does not appear to be an essential element for life (Le´onard et al.,
1995; Lenntech, 2007). The amount of lithium in the human body is approximately 7 mg.
Lithium is absorbed from the gastrointestinal tract (Casarett and Doull, 1987; Ellenhorn and
Barceloux, 1988; Linakis, 2007; Schrauzer, 2002) and excreted primarily through the kidneys
after approximately 24 h (Freeman and Freeman, 2006).
Non-supervised or indiscriminate therapeutic use of lithium carbonate can produce certain toxic
symptoms in the neuromuscular, cardiovascular and gastrointestinal system as well as more
serious renal damage (Price and Heninger, 1964) and can even cause death (Litovitz et al., 1994).
The serum (blood) level under therapeutic lithium treatment should not exceed 11.1 mg/L Li and
must be carefully monitored. Nevertheless, patients on long-term lithium treatment may suffer
from severe neurotoxic effects while serum lithium concentrations are normal (Stern, 1995).
Lithium has numerous effects in humans and in other organisms (Moore et al., 1995). Phiel and
Klein (2001) reviewed the cause and effect of lithium and showed that therapeutic levels of
lithium are clearly able to inhibit functioning of multiple enzymes in the body. Lithium, as a
medicine, has multiple effects on embryonic development, glycogen synthesis, hematopoiesis
(the formation and development of blood cells involving both proliferation and differentiation
from stem cells), and other processes.
Lithium is generally found naturally in the aquatic and terrestrial environment but in small
concentrations (Bowen, 1979; Wedepohl, 1995; Sposito, 1986; Birch, 1988; Ribas, 1991).
Genetic mutation, Carcinogenic effects, (Nishioka, 1975; Kanematsu et al., 1980) and by King et
al. (1979)
Toxicity of batteries on environment
The disposals of batteries after the end-of-life into our environments prone a great danger
to our entire ecosystem including land, water, plants, animals, and humans. It is not
essentially each of the components are harmful but nevertheless the toxic properties of
different chemicals and metals containing hazards properties attributes to environmental
pollution. Batteries contain acidic or alkaline chemicals, heavy metals, and the lithium
(button) batteries may even pass an electric current to damage or kill tissue. A review
article published by Grandjean et al., stated that the few industrial chemicals (lead,
methylmercury, polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs], arsenic, and toluene) can possibility
lead to neurodevelopmental disorders in the humans for example, attention deficit
disorder, mental retardation and autism. Other types of batteries waste metals such as
cadmium and lead, which has adverse effects such as damage kidneys and child’s
growth, cause brain damage etc. needs to reduce. Literature reports that batteries use
cathodes with nickel, cobalt and solvent-based electrode processing showed severe health
and environmental hazards. In addition, potassium leakage from the batteries can cause
severe chemical burns thereby affecting the eyes and skin. Furthermore, the landfills also
generate methane gas leading to the ‘greenhouse effect’ and global climatic changes.
Lithium with CuO, FeS2, MnO2, CrO2 affects in plants and animals interacts with sodium and
potassium as well as with enzymes requiring magnesium. Silver oxide affects of organisms in the
laboratory and field aquatic environment: Toxicity of silver compounds to aquatic species
terrestrial environment effects evaluation.
Environmental problems
Batteries are identified as a problem material in the waste stream. Batteries are made from a
variety of chemicals to power their reactions. Some of these chemicals, such as nickel and
cadmium, are extremely toxic and can cause damage to humans and the environment. In
particular, they can cause soil and water pollution and endanger wildlife. For example, cadmium
can cause damage to soil micro-organisms and affect the breakdown of organic matter. It can
also bio-accumulate in fish, which reduces their numbers and makes them unfit for human
Toxicity of batteries to humans
Batteries are safe, but precaution applies when touching damaged cells and when handling lead
acid systems that have access to lead and sulfuric acid. Several countries label lead acid as
hazardous material, and rightly so. Let’s look at the hazards if not properly handled.
Lead is a toxic metal that can enter the body by inhalation of lead dust or ingestion when
touching the mouth with lead-contaminated hands. If leaked onto the ground, the acid and lead
particulates contaminate the soil and become airborne when dry. Children and fetuses of
pregnant women are most vulnerable to lead exposure because their bodies are developing.
Excessive levels of lead can affect a child’s growth, cause brain damage, harm kidneys, impair
hearing and induce behavioral problems. In adults, lead can cause memory loss and lower the
ability to concentrate, as well as harm the reproductive system. Lead is also known to cause high
blood pressure, nerve disorders, and muscle and joint pain. Researchers believe that Ludwig van
Beethoven became ill and died from lead poisoning. (Kjølholt et al., 2003, Schrauzer, 2002;
Lenntech, 2007, Kszos and Stewart, 2003, NEMA, 2001.)
The sulfuric acid in a lead acid battery is highly corrosive and is potentially more harmful than
acids used in other battery systems cool the affected tissues and to prevent secondary damage.
Immediately remove contaminated clothing and thoroughly wash the underlying skin. Always
wear protective equipment when handling the sulfuric acid.
Cadmium, which is used in nickel-cadmium batteries, is considered more harmful than lead if
ingested. Workers at Ni-Cd manufacturing plants in Japan have been experiencing heath
problems from prolonged exposure to the metal, and governments have banned the disposal of
nickel-cadmium batteries in landfills. The soft, whitish metal that occurs naturally in the soil can
damage kidneys. Cadmium can be absorbed through the skin by touching a spilled battery. Since
most Ni-Cd batteries are sealed, there are no health risks in handling them. The caution applies
when working with an open battery.
Nickel-metal-hydride is considered non-toxic and the only concern is the electrolyte. Although
toxic to plants, nickel is not harmful to humans. Lithium-ion is similarly benign the battery
contains little toxic material. Nevertheless, caution is required when working with a damaged
battery. When handling a spilled battery, do not touch your mouth, nose and eyes, and wash your
hands thoroughly.
Keep small batteries out of children’s reach. Children younger than four are most likely to
swallow batteries, and the most common types ingested are button cells. The battery often gets
stuck in the esophagus (the tube that passes food) and the electrical current burns the surrounding
tissue. Doctors often misdiagnose the symptoms, which can show as fever, vomiting, poor
appetite and weariness. Batteries that make it through the esophagus often move through the
digestive tract with little or no lasting damage. The concern of a parent is not only to choose safe
toys, but also to keep small batteries away from young children.
Charging batteries in living quarters should be safe. This also applies to lead acid. Ventilate the
dwellings regularly as you would a kitchen when cooking. Lead acid produces some hydrogen
gas but the amount is minimal when charged correctly. Hydrogen gas is explosive and one would
need a concentration of 4% to create an explosion. This level would only be achieved if large
lead acid batteries were charged in a sealed room.
Over-charging a lead acid battery can produce hydrogen-sulfide. The gas is colorless, very
poisonous, flammable and has the odor of rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfate also occurs naturally
during the breakdown of organic matter in swamps and sewers; it is also present in volcanic
gases, natural gas, and some well waters. Being heavier than air, the gas accumulates at the
bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Although noticeable at first, the sense of smell deadens and
potential victims may be unaware of its presence. As a simple guideline, hydrogen sulfide
becomes harmful to human life if the odor is noticeable. Turn off the charger, vent the house and
stay outside until the odor disappears. [Jürgen Garche 2001,]
Waste batteries treatment option-
The most effective way to avoid battery waste is to reduce the amount you use. There are many
items that do not require batteries such as non battery operated watches, wind up radios and
wind up torches.
There are many types of batteries that are rechargeable which means use the battery over and
over again saving you money and reducing your impact on the environment. Sanyo Eneloop
rechargeable batteries can be used up to 1000 times. The Sanyo Eneloop rechargeable battery
uses the latest technology and does not have any cadmium contained in it and therefore it is safer
for the environment. Reuse of residues arising from lead batteries recycle is essential .The
performance of products arising from stabilization/solidification of slugs from lead batteries
recycle in to a Portland cement matrix has been evaluated not only in order to get a stabilizes
waste to be disposed of according to the current legislation, but also to obtain recyclable
material, with both economic and environmental benefits.
Unfortunately, there is no national recycling scheme for primary batteries in many countries.
However, there are some companies that collect batteries and ship them overseas to be recycled.
The Australian Battery Recycling Initiative (ABRI) is a relatively new organization that consists
of various battery industry organizations, recycling and collection companies plus environmental
and government organizations that are working together at developing a sustainable viable
national recycling program in Australia. Batteries contain a range of metals, which can be reused
as a secondary raw material. There are methods for recycling most batteries containing lead,
nickel-cadmium, nickel hydride and mercury (Yang, W., 2007).
Lead acid led to the success of early recycling and today more than 97 percent of these batteries
are recycled in the USA. The automotive industry should be given credit for having organized
recycling early on. The recycling process is simple and 70 percent of the battery’s weight is
reusable lead. As a result, over 50 percent of the lead supply comes from recycled
batteries. Other battery types are not being returned as readily as lead acid, and several
organizations are working on programs to make collection of spent batteries more convenient.
Only 20 to 40 percent of cellular phone and consumer batteries are currently recycled. The main
objective for recycling batteries is to prevent hazardous materials from entering landfills. Lead
acid and nickel-cadmium batteries are of special concern, and although Li-ion is less harmful, the
aim is to include all batteries in the recycling programs. Do not store old lead acid batteries in
households where children play. Simply touching the lead poles can be harmful. Read more
about the Health Concerns with Batteries.
Even though they are environmentally unfriendly, lead acid batteries continue to hold a strong
market niche. Wheeled mobility and UPS systems could not run as economically if it were not
for this reliable battery. Ni-Cd also continues to hold a critical position among rechargeable
batteries. Large flooded Ni-Cds start the Auxiliary Power Unit (APU) of commercial airplanes
and power sightseeing boats in rivers of larger cities, pollution-free.
Toxic batteries will continue to be with us for a while longer because we have no practical
alternatives. There is nothing wrong in using these batteries as long as we properly dispose of
them. Europe banned Ni-Cds in consumer products because there is a suitable replacement, the
Ni-MH battery. Controlling the disposal of Ni-Cds from consumer products is difficult because
many users do not know that the retiring equipment includes this battery. The long-term
environmental damage if the world’s Ni-Cds were improperly disposed of could be devastating.
Let’s look at what happens when Ni-Cds are carelessly disposed of in landfills. The metallic
cylinder of the cell eventually begins to corrode and the cadmium gradually dissolves, seeping
into the water supply. Once such contamination begins, the authorities have few options to stop
the carnage. Our oceans already show traces of cadmium (along with aspirin, penicillin and
antidepressants) but scientists are not certain of its origin. Regulatory discipline will lead to a
cleaner environment for the next generations.
Nickel-metal-hydride batteries contain nickel and electrolyte, which are considered semi-toxic. If
no disposal service is available in an area, individual NiMH batteries can be discarded with other
household waste. When accumulating 10 or more batteries, the user should consider disposing of
the packs in a secure waste landfill. The better alternative is bringing the spent batteries to a
neighborhood drop-off bin for recycling.
Primary lithium batteries contain metallic lithium that reacts violently when in contact with
moisture and the batteries must be disposed of appropriately. If thrown in the landfill in a
charged state, heavy equipment operating on top could crush the cases and the exposed lithium
would cause a fire. Landfill fires are difficult to extinguish and can burn for years underground.
Before recycling, apply a full discharge to consume the lithium content. Non-rechargeable
lithium batteries are used in military combat, as well as watches, hearing aids and memory
backup. Li-ion for cell phones and laptops do not contain metallic lithium.
In North America, Toxco and Rechargeable Battery Recycling Corporation (RBRC) collect spent
batteries and recycle them. While Toxco has its own recycling facilities, RBRC is in charge of
collecting batteries and sending them to recycling organizations. Toxco in Trail, British
Columbia, claims to be the only company in the world that recycles large lithium batteries. They
receive spent batteries from oil drilling in Nigeria, Indonesia and other places. Toxco also
recycles retired lithium batteries from the Minuteman missile silos and tons of Li-ion from the
war in Iraq. Other divisions at Toxco recycle nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride, lead,
mercury, alkaline and more.
Europe and Asia are also active in recycling spent batteries. Among other recycling companies,
Sony and Sumitomo Metal in Japan and Unicore in Belgium have developed technology to
retrieve cobalt and other precious metals from spent lithium ion batteries. The raw material
lithium can also be retrieved and re-used repeatedly. Read about Battery Recycling as a
Business. Table 1 lists the material value per ton of lithium-ion batteries. The table also includes
lead acid, the most profitable battery in terms of recycling.
Table 1: Metal value in on ton of batteries
Battery Chemistry
Metal value (per ton)
Lithium cobalt oxide
Lithium iron phosphate
Lead acid* $1,500
*Lead acid remains the most suitable battery to recycle; 70% of its weight contains of reusable lead.
Recycling Process
The recycling begins by sorting the batteries into chemistries. The collection centers place lead
acid, nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal-hydride and lithium-ion into designated drums, sacks or
boxes. The battery recyclers claim that if a steady stream of batteries, sorted by chemistry, were
available at no charge, recycling would be profitable.
The recycling process generally begins by removing the combustible material, such as plastics
and insulation, with a gas-fired thermal oxidizer. The plant’s scrubber eliminates the polluting
particles created by a burning process before releasing them into the atmosphere. This leaves the
clean and naked cells with their valuable metal content. The cells are then chopped into small
pieces and heated until the metal liquefies. The non-metallic substances are burned off; leaving a
black slag on top that a slag arm removes. The alloys settle according to weight and are skimmed
off like cream from raw milk while in liquid form. The cadmium for example is relatively light
and vaporizes at high temperatures. In a process that appears like a pan of water boiling over, a
fan blows the cadmium vapor into a large tube cooled with water mist, and the vapors condense
to produce cadmium that is 99.95% pure. Some recyclers do not separate the metals on site but
pour the liquid metals directly into what the industry refers to as “pigs” (65 pounds, 24kg) or
“hogs” (2,000 pounds, 746kg). Other battery recyclers use the 7-pound nuggets (3.17kg). The
pigs, hogs and nuggets are then shipped to metal recovery plants where they are used to produce
nickel, chromium and iron for stainless steel and other high-end products. Toxco uses liquid
nitrogen to freeze lithium-based batteries before shredding, crushing and removal of the lithium,
as well as other battery components. The lithium is dissolved in a solution to make the metal
non-reactive and is sold for producing lubricating greases. Similarly, the cobalt is separated,
collected and sold. Battery recycling is energy-intensive, and it takes 6 to 10 times more energy
to reclaim metals from recycled batteries as it does to produce the materials through other means,
including mining. Let’s explore who pays for the recycling of batteries. (Guo Li-ping, et. al.,
2005, Yang, W., 2007). Each country imposes their own rules and fees to make recycling
feasible. For example, in North America, some recycling plants invoice on weight, and the rates
vary according to chemistry. Nickel-metal-hydride yields the best return, as recycling produces
enough nickel to pay for the process. The highest recycling fees apply to nickel-cadmium and
lithium-ion, because the demand for cadmium is low and lithium-ion contains little in retrievable
metal. Rather than calculate the cost according to battery chemistry, some countries deal in
tonnage. The flat cost to recycle a ton of batteries is $1,000 to $2,000, and Europe hopes to
achieve a cost per ton of $300. Ideally, this would include transportation, but moving and
handling the goods is expected to double the overall cost. To simplify transportation, Europe is
setting up several smaller processing plants in strategic geographic locations. Manufacturers,
agencies and governments still must provide subsidies to support the battery recycling programs.
This is underwritten by a tax added to each manufactured cell. RBRC receives funding from such
a program.
Social awareness
The Government of India in the Ministry of Environment and Forests has published a Batteries
(Management and Handling) Rules, 2001, which states collection of 90% batteries sold by
lead battery manufacturers through dealers. The law recognized an proper reporting system for
dealers, manufacturers, importers, recyclers and others in the supply chain. Under the law, it has
been instructed that the recyclers are also required to be registered by state level pollution control
boards. Table 2 lists few countries for the recycling rate of batteries (Year 2002).
Table 2. Some Countries and their Batteries recycling Rates.
7 th international Battery Expo & recycling conference IBRX India-2015, 3rd & 5 th march
2015, Marriott Resort Goa.
Eco-friendly battery using wood, tin and sodium as raw materials. This battery is
thousand times thinner than a paper and can store large amount of energy to last longer
than a commercial battery.
Use of sodium instead of lithium makes these batteries eco-friendly. Limitation of this
battery is that it can’t store energy as efficiently as the lithium battery and thus can be
used at a power plant or to store solar energy
With continuous changes in the length scale of batteries and their chemistries requires proper the
recycling infrastructure for a responsive waste management’s.
Sl.No. Country Recycling rate of batteries
1Belgium 59%
2Sweden 55%
3Austria 44%
4Germany 39%
5The Netherlands 32%
6France 16%
7United Kingdom 32%*
Lithium batteries are generally considered not an environmental hazard except when
containing toxic (heavy) metals and disposed of in large quantities.
Batteries have to be considered as an engineered product with a high added value. When
evaluated on a price per unit weight basis, their current market prices can be compared
with some other manufactured products like watches or automobiles.
On a short-term basis, one has to consider that nickel-cadmium and mercury cells are on
the market. Before processing zinc batteries for recycling it is advisable to sort out these
batteries, in order to send each type of battery to a selective recycling route.
Zinc batteries with minimum mercury content will still be treated as mercury-bearing
waste and have to be handled by processes which are taking this technical reality into
account like the BATREC and the RECYTEC processes.
On a medium-term basis, if land filling has to be considered, it should be made after
sorting out the batteries, in order to store uniform lots of spent batteries (mainly alkaline
and saline batteries) and in order to send the recyclable materials like the mercury cells
and the nickel-cadmium batteries to their existing recycling facilities.
On a long-term basis, due to the decrease in mercury content of batteries, the major issue
will be to separate the rechargeable from the non-rechargeable zinc batteries.
The steel industry and the secondary zinc industries will be ready to accept this source of
secondary zinc.
Batteries available for recycling in the next few years, there is a considerable market
opportunity for this technology to be applied further into the disposal of hybrid batteries
and other cobalt/nickel scraps without sophisticated impurities removing steps.
Chemicals in battery can cause severe effects on aquatic environment, terrestrial
environment, soil water and human.
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... 95 Teški metali i kiseline iz baterija i akumulatora mogu biti opasni za zdravlje ljudi i životnu sredinu, naročito zbog neadekvatnog sakupljanja, tretmana i odlaganja. Zagađivanje životne sredine otpadnim baterijama ogleda se kroz: 96  Zagađenje vazduha -Baterije podliježu fotohemijskoj reakciji praćenoj izdvajanjem gasova sa efektom staklene bašte. Efekat staklene bašte dovodi do globalnog zagrijavanja, odnosno klimatskih promjena. ...
Recent works on self-charging power technologies mainly focused on the low energy harvesting component, while its integration with the energy storage system was usually not further evaluated or discussed. This was addressed in the present work by providing a comprehensive state-of-the-art review on different types of energy storage used for self-sufficient or self-sustainable power units to meet the power demands of low power devices such as wearable devices, wireless sensor networks, portable electronics, and LED lights within the range of 4.8 mW–13 W. The paper presents the relevant scientific studies and recent developments on incorporating low energy harvesting with energy storage and power management systems. Recent advances on seven types of low energy harvesting technologies or transducers and eight types of micro/small-scale energy storage systems from farads to amps were examined to assess the integrated design's overall efficiency. The study focused on the design, distribution management networks, efficiency, compatibility with other components, costs, and environmental impact of self-sustainable power unit. To effectively assess the most suitable energy storage for the self-charging power unit, assessing its technical characteristics, economical, and environmental impact is discussed. Finally, the review identified the challenges and further research that must be carried out to achieve a more sustainable and stable integrated technology, moving from the proof of concept or laboratory to actual applications.
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