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Posted on : Nov 30, 2011
U.S. battery maker Johnson Controls says independent tests show that its factory in Shanghai was not the cause of severe lead poisoning cases discovered earlier this year but point instead to a nearby recycling facility.

The Milwaukee, Wisconsin-based company said Wednesday that an investigation by the China Electric Equipment Industry Association found the factory in Shanghai’s eastern suburbs could not be the cause of elevated blood-lead levels among children in a nearby community.

Local officials had insisted that the plant, which is much larger than other battery factories in the area, had to be the cause of the poisoning cases.

The Johnson Controls factory was shut down in September after it reached its annual quota for lead use. The plant has sought repeatedly to get permission to expand production, but local environmental officials say such requests will not be approved due to concerns over lead emissions.

Tests by the industry association’s Lead-acid Battery Sub-Commission showed abnormally high lead levels at a waste recycling facility near the Kangqiao community, with lead levels three times the current national standard and 10 times a pending stricter national standard. Zinc levels were 15 times national standards.

“We believe this is a comprehensive investigation based on facts,” said Alex Molinaroli, president of Johnson Controls Power Solutions. “The results corroborate our own data and prove that emissions from our battery plant could not be the cause of elevated blood-lead levels found in the community.”

Johnson Controls had insisted all along that its plant’s emission controls and equipment would have prevented any significant contamination.

Production at a second, but smaller battery plant in the area had also been stopped.

Soaring use of cars and electric scooters is driving strong demand for lead acid batteries, and their production and recycling are a key source of lead contamination.

The lead emissions problem drew attention after families living in Kanghua New Village, a small block of apartment buildings erected 15 years ago to house farm families moved to make way for the city’s Kangqiao Industrial Zone, said checks showed many of their children had abnormally high blood lead levels.

The village, a small gated community of low-rise apartments, is located just north of the zone and close to chemical, battery and electronics equipment factories.

Johnson Controls earlier said its factory has lead emissions at about one-seventh the Chinese national standard and employees are regularly tested to ensure their blood lead levels remain low enough.

The company is expanding in China, planning a new $100 million plant to make start-stop batteries for vehicles. Such batteries cut fuel use and emissions by automatically shutting off a standard gas-powered engine when it idles and restarting it when the driver engages the clutch or releases the brake.

Source: The Washington Post
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