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  Lead-Acid Batteries - Hazards and Responsible Use
More than 25 million motor vehicles are registered in California.  Each vehicle uses a lead-acid battery.  The average battery contains 17.5 pounds of lead and 1.5 gallons of sulfuric acid.  Improperly and illegally disposed of batteries present a threat to our health and to the environment.

What Are Lead-Acid Batteries?

Lead-acid batteries are used in cars, trucks, motorcycles, boats, and other motorized equipment.  Each battery consists of a polypropylene plastic case containing lead plates immersed in a sulfuric acid electrolyte.

Health and Environmental Effects

Lead-acid batteries contain chemicals that have the potential to be hazardous to your health and the environment.  The batteries contain lead, a highly toxic metal, and sulfuric acid, a corrosive electrolyte solution.  Since both of these materials are classified as hazardous, it is very important that the battery be handled properly.

Contact with the sulfuric acid solution may lead to irritation or burns to the skin, or irritation to the mucous membranes of the eyes or the upper respiratory system.

Symptoms of low-level lead exposure include fatigue, impaired central nervous system functions, and impaired learning.  Severe lead poisoning can result in coma, convulsions, irreversible mental retardation, seizures, and even death.

If lead-acid batteries are disposed of in a solid waste landfill or illegally dumped, the lead and sulfuric acid can seep into the soil and contaminate ground water, potentially affecting the quality of our drinking water supply.  If the batteries are disposed of near rivers, streams, lakes, or marine waters, the lead and sulfuric acid can also threaten aquatic life.

Maintain Batteries Properly

Following a few simple tips can extend battery life. Note:  These steps do not apply to a ˇ°maintenance-freeˇ± sealed battery where no removable caps are present on the top of the battery.

* Check the fluid levels frequently.  Remove the plastic caps from the top of the battery to insure that the fluid reaches indicator marks located inside the battery.  If fluid levels are low, fill the battery up to the specified height with deionized water only.

*  Check the battery cable connections.  If the connection is bad, a buildup of lead sulfate will be present on the cable connections.  This white substance can be easily removed using a battery terminal cleaner tool that can be purchased at your local automotive store.

*  Check the battery for cracks.  If cracks are present, replace the battery and put the old one in a leakproof container or thick plastic bag.
Remember:  Always protect yourself when checking a battery.  Wear protective gloves, as well as goggles that completely cover your eyes, when checking battery fluid levels and recharging a battery.

How Can I Recycle My Lead-Acid Batteries?

Several recycling options are available to the public:

* Exchange your old battery when you buy a new one.  State law requires lead-acid battery retailers to accept old batteries when a new battery is sold.  Store the old battery in a safe place away from children and pets prior to recycling.

*  Take your battery to a scrap metal dealer who collects these batteries.  Some dealers will even compensate you for your old battery.

* Take your battery and any other type of household hazardous waste (HHW) to your collection facility or a local HHW collection event.

What Happens to My Old Batteries?

The battery recycling process separates the lead plates, polypropylene plastic, and sulfuric acid. The lead and the polypropylene are reclaimed for use in new batteries, and the sulfuric acid is neutralized so it can be disposed of safely.
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