Old U.S. Batteries Making Mexicans Sick

Car battery | Image by Joe Belanger

Recycling used car batteries can be hazardous to workers if safety protocols are not followed. High levels of lead contamination have recently been found at recycling plants in Mexico, where lax environmental laws and enforcement have threatened workers’ health, per The New York Times.

A recent report by Occupational Knowledge International revealed that between 75% and 95% of used batteries are exported annually from the U.S. to Mexico. While this practice is nothing new, it has steadily increased over the past decade by 18%.

This has become particularly concerning in the northern Mexican city of Monterrey, which has become the main destination for old car batteries from the U.S.

As per the recent report by Occupational Knowledge International, which involved researchers from the Mexican environmental group Casa Cem, the surge in batteries shipped from the U.S. has resulted in significantly high levels of lead at several facilities in Monterrey. This has exposed workers to a toxic metal that poses severe risks to human health.

In 2022, researchers took 28 soil samples outside six battery recycling plants in Monterrey. They found that 16 of them showed lead levels far above the legal limit in Mexico of 800 ppm. The highest was Corporación Pipsa with a level of 12,296 ppm.

This indicates that workers at these plants are vulnerable to lead exposure, which can lead to neurological and gastrointestinal damage over time. The damage done to the brain is irreversible, according to the Mayo Clinic.

Azael Mateo González Ramírez, who worked at a Monterrey recycling plant owned by Grupo Gonher, told the NYT that he suffered from dizziness, aches, throat pain, and bouts of diarrhea after coming into contact with lead from the used car batteries.

After going to the doctor, medical tests showed González had high levels of lead in his body. After speaking with his supervisor and making a suggestion to help limit the exposure to the large containers of lead dust kept in the facility, he was told to keep working.

Shortly after, as González told the NYT, he was fired from the plant. Although he was told it was due to the company being restructured, he believes it was because of having vocalized his concerns about the lead.

Lead exposure is a serious concern, as even small amounts of lead in the body can have severe consequences.

Workers at the Gonher plant, who are exposed to high levels of lead, are at risk of developing heart disease and other health problems.

Another former employee of the same Gonher-owned plant, Elizabeth Coronado‌, was a nurse and was responsible for monitoring the health of workers in high lead exposure areas. She told the NYT that of the ‌roughly 300 workers whose blood samples she tested for lead every three months, a third had ‌as much as 50 mcg/dL in their system.

The level at which lead levels in the blood are considered toxic is 25 mcg/dL, according to U.S. health officials.

To combat the alarming results, Coronado told the NYT that the company would give workers multivitamins and milk.

Alongside the crucial step of avoiding exposure, the most efficient way to treat high levels of lead in the blood is through drug therapy, per the Mayo Clinic. This includes oral or injectable medications that target the lead in the body and expel it.

Despite the concerning reports, some recycling plants in Mexico have claimed to follow strict safety protocols and provide employees with state-of-the-art protective safety gear.

“We work with local health, safety, and environmental authorities to ensure our facilities are not only in compliance, but set the benchmark for our industry,” Ana Margarita Garza-Villarreal, a spokeswoman for Clarios, a U.S.-based company that owns battery recycling plants in Mexico, told the NYT.

At the same time, investigations have found that some filter systems are outdated or prone to breakdowns, per the NYT. The wearing of face masks is also not strictly enforced.

Óscar Nuñez, a former employee of another recycling plant in Mexico, told the NYT that he quit after a few months because the ventilation did not work well and lead dust would penetrate his gloves.

“It was like prison in there,” Nuñez added.

Documents obtained by the NYT show that despite Mexico’s ‌federal ‌environmental ‌agency having the authority to shutter plants that violate environmental standards, this has happened ‌just four times in the past 23 years.

Support our non-profit journalism


  1. ThisGuyisTom

    QUOTES from article…
    “Lead exposure is a serious concern, as even small amounts of lead in the body can have severe consequences.”
    “This indicates that workers at these plants are vulnerable to lead exposure, which can lead to neurological and gastrointestinal damage over time. The damage done to the brain is irreversible, according to the Mayo Clinic.”
    At one time, the City of Dallas did a study on Lead in tap water in some homes. They found that over the years, the Lead levels increased by an alarming percentage. The original document link is ‘dead’, but DallasForSaferWater has it archived…
    I am curious if the City has stopped the tap water Lead testing study and is no longer publishing the results.
    Dallas For Safer Water
    The webpage is heavy, so it give it time to load. Computers work best.
    Scroll down to find maps with lots and lots of information about the alarming amount of Lead in Dallas tap water depending upon where you live or work.
    Just so folks know:
    Some of the world’s top scientist experts on Lead toxicity also testified during the EPA Fluoride Lawsuit. They stated that Fluoride’s toxicity is on par with Lead’s toxicity. [Dr. Philippe Grandjean of Harvard, Dr. Howard Hu and Dr. Bruce Lanphear]
    RFK Jr. Interviews Michael Connett on the Fluoride Lawsuit – 33 minutes

  2. Diane Randolph

    Shame on those companies. Those poor workers will pay a high price.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *