A study led by University of Tennessee researcher Chris Cherry projects lead pollution from expected investments in solar power by 2022 would be equivalent to one-third of current global lead production. The push for solar energy has the potential to release more than 2.4 million tons of lead pollution in China and India, countries heavily involved in lead mining, smelting, battery manufacturing and recycling, the researchers warn.
The battery industry is the largest consumer of lead and is growing rapidly in much of the world to meet demand for batteries for solar power and other applications.
Lead poisoning can cause damage to the central nervous system, the kidneys, the cardiovascular system, and the reproductive system.
The UT study follows reports of a large number of mass lead poisoning incidents around lead battery recycling and manufacturing plants in China.
"The solar industry has to step up and take responsibility for ensuring that their lead battery suppliers are operating with adequate controls as long as they are going to be reliant on this technology," said study co-author Perry Gottesfeld of Occupational Knowledge International.
"Without major improvements in the manufacturing and recycling [of] lead batteries in these countries, we expect that lead poisoning will increase as the industry grows."