Sat, Apr 16, 2005 - Page 2 News List

Long-term risks of battery poisoning probed

TIME-BOMB?An at-large legislator said that substandard batteries containing high levels of mercury and other chemicals should be investigated and even regulated

TAIPEI , CNA

Substandard batteries from China and Southeast Asia are poisoning Taiwan with increasing levels of mercury and other hazardous mineral waste, ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) Legislator-at-Large Wang Jung-chang (王榮璋) claimed yesterday.

Under the banner: "Chinese and Asian Batteries Enough to Kill 200,000 Taiwan People A Year," Wang said during a press conference that while the mercury content of batteries originating in China and Southeast Asian countries are dangerously higher than allowed levels, none of the batteries, which are sold in Taiwan, have been banned or even regulated.

Wang quoted the results of research conducted by Yuan Ze University's Center of Environmental Sciences as showing that compared with the mercury content of US-made and Japanese-made batteries, which average 0.13ppm, batteries from Southeast Asian countries and China have mercury content averaging 34ppm and 127ppm, respectively, far exceeding Taiwan's allowed maximum level of 5ppm.

Wang claimed that about 74 percent of the batteries sold in Taiwan are from China or Southeast Asia. The amount equals roughly 600-700kg of mercury.

However, he went on, only 15 percent of Taiwan's used batteries have been retrieved and recycled, with the remaining 85 percent ending up in incinerators or landfills each year, polluting an immeasurable volume of water and air with mercury, lead, chromium and other depleting elements.

If 3 grams of mercury is enough to kill an adult, the 600-700 kilos of waste mercury is enough to kill 200,000 Taiwanese people each year, Wang warned.

Wang called for the Cabinet-level Environmental Protection Administration (EPA) to conduct a nationwide census on batteries in Taiwan to find out their mercury content as well as their final destination.

He also demanded that the government increase fines for people who import, produce or distribute illegal batteries that have high mercury content.

Chang Hsu-chang (張旭彰), an official with the EPA Waste Management Department, who was present at the press conference, said that the EPA has resolved to adopt a new measure to regulate dry-cell batteries, namely that the EPA will issue approval certificates to battery producers and importers only if their products' mercury content level is at 5ppm or lower.

China dumps about 20,000 tons of substandard batteries in Taiwan annually without attracting notice from the Taiwan authorities, according to a private environmental group.

The batteries, with an average mercury content that is 360 times greater than that of legally controlled batteries, are posing a threat to Taiwan's environment and people's lives, according to a spokesman for the group.

The Chinese batteries -- many of which are produced in underground factories and illegally smuggled into Taiwan -- are easily available on the shelves of NT$10-per-item stores, the spokesman said.

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