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Recycling batteries reduces dangers

Special to The Times

The AAA is collecting old batteries nationwide as part of its campaign to protect public health and the environment from potentially dangerous injuries and contamination from used batteries.

Last year AAA clubs collected more than 15,000 batteries. The current AAA Great Battery Roundup has been extended through Saturday at 65 drop-off sites in Southern California.

A list of locations can be found on the club’s Web site, www.aaa-calif.com, or call (800) 400-4222 for more information. Batteries also can be recycled during the year at AAA battery service providers and at many automotive shops. Many counties and cities also provide outlets to recycle auto batteries.

Used vehicle batteries pose a toxic danger if they begin to leak lead and sulfuric acid into the environment, warns Steve Mazor, principal automotive engineer for the Automobile Club of Southern California.

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The risk is particularly great, as club officials estimate that more than 5 million used auto and boat batteries last year were not returned to industry recycling plants and have been illegally dumped in landfills and waterways, or were stored in home garages, backyards or tossed into vacant lots.

“Leaking sulfuric acid from old batteries can cause painful injuries to children or animals if they come into contact with the acid,” Mazor said.

In addition, lead from batteries will “seep into the ground, pollute the soil, contaminate backyards and water runoff,” Mazor said. And increased exposure to lead can cause children to have “irreversible disabilities ... and neurological damage,” according to an Environmental Protection Agency report.

Recycling used batteries is a relatively simple way to protect health and safety, said Henry Abadin, an environmental health scientist at the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry in Atlanta. “Once batteries are used up, they can all be recycled, and the lead is regenerated to produce new batteries,” Abadin said.

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Leaking chemicals aren’t the only health risks associated with old batteries. Used batteries also may pose a potential fire hazard and the risk of explosion because they contain sulfuric acid and produce hydrogen and oxygen gases. If the gases come into contact with a flame or spark, the battery could explode, Mazor said.

In 1997, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reported that during a 12-month period, 7,051 people were treated in hospital emergency rooms for injuries caused by battery explosions, chemical burns or contamination from battery acid, and electrical shocks.

What do you do if you injure an eye in a battery explosion?

Flush it immediately with any drinkable liquid such as water, milk, juice or a soft drink, advises Betsy van Die, spokeswoman for Prevent Blindness America, a national volunteer eye health and safety organization based in Schaumburg, Ill.

“Every second counts. Because the longer the acid stays in the eye, the greater the chance of a serious corneal burn or blindness,” she said.

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Jeanne Wright responds in this column to automotive questions of general interest. Write to Your Wheels, Business Section, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012. E-mail: jeanrite@aol.com.


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