Panama – Battery Recycling

the details…
Key pollutant
Lead
Source
Lead smelter
Pathway
  • Soil
  • Direct contact
Population affected
10,000
Children Under 6 Affected
2,000
Industry
Battery recycling
Date started
January 2008
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The Problem

ANAM (Panama’s Ministry of the Environment) reports that PAMETSA, a secondary smelter located in Panama City, processes spent lead-acid batteries, recovers plastic casings and smelts recovered lead into ingots. The PAMETSA site is located in a suburban area surrounded by domestic dwellings. The site is roughly 2.6 acres (a little over 1 ha) in area. There is a buffer of trees between the smelter buildings and the community of interest. The community is especially concerned about exposure to their children to lead contamination as a result of emissions from the PAMETSA site.

Blacksmith investigators made an initial investigation in January 2008. A site assessment was conducted to collect information and soil samples for lead analysis. Dust wipes in five homes were taken. Soil lead concentration levels as high as 65,000 ppm Pb (parts of lead (Pb) per million) were reported. There is no information about the fate of acid reclaimed from the batteries. As many as 10,000 people may be at risk of lead exposure in communities surrounding PAMETSA. Lead poisoning causes central nervous system damage and impairs neurological development especially in children. The investigators recommended additional sampling in the community and provided equipment to do so. A memorandum of understanding was developed with the parties involved.

Panama’s Ministry of Health ordered temporary closing of PAMESTA based on Resolution 300 and the fact that 1 out of 5 blood samples of community residents analyzed by the Technological University of Panama showed higher than normal levels. 47 people were confirmed to have higher blood lead levels. Another order was put to provide medical attention to elders and children that tested positive in high levels of lead in blood. PAMESTA’s attorney denied claims against the company’s operation and responsibility for health impacts in the community and consequently filed for an appeal. However, a University group also detected lead in acid rain, and the option to appeal was denied.

ANAM (Panama’s Ministry of the Environment) shared information that PAMETSA, a secondary smelter located in Panama City, was suspected of exposing the local community to lead contamination as a result of emissions from the site. Blacksmith investigators made an initial investigation in January 2008 to collect information and soil samples for lead analysis. As many as 10,000 people may be at risk of lead exposure in communities surrounding the plant. The investigators recommended additional sampling in the community and provided equipment to do so. A memorandum of understanding was developed with the parties involved.

• Solution Implemented:

Blacksmith Institute and Hunter College assisted the Government of Panama in its efforts to investigate and assess pollution primarily in the community of Pedregalito, Juan Diaz, Panama City, with the ultimate goal of seeking environmental restoration of the area. Hunter College provided loaner equipment for air sampling, training for technical staff on equipment use and environmental assessments in the field, as well as assessment and interpretation of data obtained in the field.  ANAM, as a local government agency, coordinated matters and information related to the study area to make site assessments possible.  Blacksmith Institute proposed the design of programs for the evaluation of public health, financed the operation, and provided environmental analytical services.

Panama’s Ministry of Health ordered temporary closing of PAMESTA based on Resolution 300 and the fact that 1 out of 5 blood samples of community residents analyzed by the Technological University of Panama showed higher than normal levels.  47 people were confirmed to have higher blood lead levels.  Another order was put to provide medical attention to elders and children that tested positive in high levels of lead in blood.  PAMESTA’s attorney denied claims against the company’s operation and responsibility for health impacts in the community and consequently filed for an appeal.  However, a University group also detected lead in acid rain, and the option to appeal was denied.