NiCad Batteries Too Toxic for Nordic Countries

BRUSSELS, Belgium, August 27, 2001 (ENS) - Environment ministers from the European Union's three Nordic member countries have intervened in the European Commission's troubled internal debate over whether to propose a Europe wide ban on nickel-cadmium rechargeable batteries (Nicads).

Larsson

Swedish Environment Minister Kjell Larsson(Two photos courtesy government of Sweden)
In a joint letter, Sweden's Kjell Larsson, Denmark's Svend Auken and Finland's Satu Hassi urge EU Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom to maintain her proposals in the face of opposition from industry groups and fellow commissioners.

"Even if cadmium is prohibited in batteries as from 2008, cadmium will still occur in waste after the year 2020," the ministers write. This will mean cadmium - a highly toxic heavy metal - still appearing in waste over 30 years after the Council of Ministers called in 1988 for it to be substituted wherever possible, they say.

The ministers say they are responding to news that Wallstrom's plan has stalled, and urge as a matter of "utmost importance" that the Commission propose an EU-wide ban on Nicads "as soon as possible."

Wallstrom's initiative to phase out the batteries ran into trouble before the summer break and is now being considered alongside an alternative plan for deposits on battery sales to encourage high retrieval and recycling rates.

Wallstrom

European Environment Commissioner Margot Wallstrom of Sweden
"The speed of development of battery technology in recent years...indicates that a ban can be easily enforced," the ministers insist in their letter to Wallstrom. "Experience gained in some Member States shows that it is possible to substitute up to 75 percent of the NiCad batteries used today."

Given that only four percent of NiCads have been collected over the last 20 years despite a legal obligation for this to happen, the ministers write, "It is hard to imagine that an efficient collection could...result [from] a deposit system."

The most common type of rechargeable battery is the nickel cadmium battery. NiCad batteries are used in all sorts of consumer electronics such as cameras, camcorders, tape recorders, cordless and cellular phones.

Exposure to cadmium happens mostly in the workplace where cadmium products are made. If workers breath high levels of cadmium, it damages the lungs and can cause death. Eating food or drinking water with very high levels of cadmium severely irritates the stomach.

Long term exposure to lower levels of cadmium in air, food, or water leads to a buildup of cadmium in the kidneys and possible kidney disease. Other long term effects are lung damage and fragile bones.

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{Published in cooperation with ENDS Environment Daily, Europe's choice for environmental news. Environmental Data Services Ltd, London. Email: envdaily@ends.co.uk}