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10th August 2020
On Sunday 9 August a fire at MRI Australia’s e-waste and battery recycling facility in Campbellfield was reported in the media.
Understandably there has been a connection made between this incident and concerns about similar risks at Chunxing’s proposed Used Lead Acid Battery (ULAB) recycling facility in Hazelwood North.
The facility in Campbellfield does not process ULABs at all. It disassembles and processes e-waste, such as computers and TVs, as well as nickel-cadmium (NiCad) batteries. It also accepts lithium-ion batteries.
While fires can occur in a range of industrial and residential settings, ULABs themselves are not a particular fire risk – there are no flammable components to their chemistry.
The major hazard associated with lithium-ion batteries, on the other hand, both in use and spent, is fire and explosion risk. Lithium-ion batteries have a number of operational advantages over other battery types but their lack of viable recycling infrastructure and significant safety risks with disposal are major disadvantages compared to longstanding lead acid battery technology.
Lithium-ion batteries are very energy-dense when compared to lead acid. They can also contain flammable electrolytes (rather than water in a lead acid battery). That is why these batteries are strictly prohibited by airlines and are not allowed in checked luggage. While these factors are not typically a concern in the operational battery, damage or puncture during collection, sorting or disposal, as a waste, can result in explosion.
Used lead acid batteries have endured over a long period of time because they are inexpensive, use well-established and economic recycling technologies and have these safety advantages in storage and recycling, when compared to other battery types.
Equating the Campbellfield facility’s operations and risks with the proposed ULAB facility in Hazelwood North has no basis in fact. The batteries received and the technology applied are totally unrelated.
28th May 2020
Chunxing engaged Environmental Risk Sciences Pty Ltd (enRiskS) to carry out a Human Health Risk Assessment. Their report is provided here. It’s key conclusions were:
“Based on the evaluation presented in relation to potential health impacts of air emissions from the proposed ULAB recycling facility, the following is concluded:
Inhalation exposures: Risks to human health associated with acute or chronic exposures are negligible. This includes risks to pollutants presents as gases, particulate matter and pollutants bound to particulates.
Multiple pathway exposures: Risks to human health associated with chronic exposures to pollutants, bound to particulates, that may deposit to surfaces and taken up into produce for home consumption relevant to all surrounding areas, including all rural residential and low- density residential properties, are negligible.”
In relation to industrial neighbours and visitors to the site:
“The assessment of potential acute and chronic inhalation exposures in these areas has concluded that there are no risks to the health of workers or visitors.”
In relation to those residential areas located closest to the site:
“The assessment of potential acute inhalation and chronic inhalation and multi-pathway exposures in the residential and rural residential areas has concluded that there are no risks to the health of residents.”