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Review: Lead exposure in battery manufacturing and recycling in developing countries and among children in nearby communities.

The battery industry is the largest consumer of lead, using an estimated 80% of the global lead production. The industry is also rapidly expanding in emerging market countries. A review of published literature on exposures from lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling plants in developing countries was conducted. The review included studies from 37 countries published from 1993 to 2010 and excluded facilities in developed countries, such as the United States and those in Western Europe, except for providing comparisons to reported findings. The average worker blood lead level (BLL) in developing countries was 47 μg/dL in battery manufacturing plants and 64 μg/dL in recycling facilities. Airborne lead concentrations reported in battery plants in developing countries averaged 367 μg/m3, which is 7-fold greater than the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration's 50 μg/m3 permissible exposure limit. The geometric mean BLL of children residing near battery plants in developing countries was 19 μg/dL, which is about 13-fold greater than the levels observed among children in the United States. The blood lead and airborne lead exposure concentrations for battery workers were substantially higher in developing countries than in the United States. This disparity may worsen due to rapid growth in lead-acid battery manufacturing and recycling operations worldwide. Given the lack of regulatory and enforcement capacity in most developing countries, third-party certification programs may be the only viable option to improve conditions.

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