Los Angeles Times

Gaza’s piles of old batteries pose hazard

- Associated press

GAZA CITY — Virtually every household in the Gaza Strip relies on batteries to keep their home running — a result of years of chronic power outages.

These batteries, fueling everything from lights to internet routers to solar panels, have helped mitigate one crisis. But they are causing another one as huge mounds of old and used batteries pile up in a territory lacking the ability to safely dispose of them.

“There is a real danger that these batteries are collected and stored randomly in the open air, not in warehouses,” said Mohammed Musleh, an official with Gaza’s Environmen­t Authority.

The most pressing threat, he said, is that “the batteries break and ooze liquid that includes sulfuric acid and leaks into the soil and then the water aquifer.”

The Environmen­t Authority estimates that 25,000 tons of old batteries are piled up at several locations across the tiny and overcrowde­d coastal territory. There are no recycling facilities in Gaza and a punishing blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt prevents the batteries from being shipped abroad for safe disposal.

According to the U.S. Environmen­tal Protection Agency, used batteries create a number of risks to public health and the environmen­t. Different types of batteries contain potentiall­y dangerous types of metals such as mercury, lead and cadmium, and some can catch fire.

Such risks are especially acute in Gaza, where the healthcare system has been ravaged by years of conflict and lack of funds and where the environmen­t is already in dire condition. Nearly all of Gaza’s water is undrinkabl­e due to high saline levels caused by overextrac­tion.

Israel bombed Gaza’s sole power plant during a round of fighting in 2006 and imposed the blockade with Egypt the following year after the militant group Hamas seized power in the strip from rival Palestinia­n forces. The result: a daily blackout of at least eight hours, punctuated by longer outages that can last for days during winter storms or conflicts.

This has turned batteries into an integral part of dayto-day life for the territory’s 2 million residents.

The Gaza City municipali­ty has a hazardous waste unit that is meant to safely dispose of old batteries. But Ahmed abu Abdu, head of the unit, says very few batteries reach him. Instead, a small private industry has sprouted up.

Every day, collectors in cars or donkey-drawn carts roam Gaza, calling on loudspeake­rs for people wishing to sell old batteries. Depending on their size, old batteries can fetch up to $2 apiece.

Khaled Ayyad is one of dozens of merchants who buy the old batteries. For eight years, he has collected and stored them at a warehouse in northern Gaza.

Ayyad has one goal in mind: to export the batteries and make a decent profit.

“As the Israeli side allows them [batteries] into Gaza, it has to let them go out,” he said. “We can sell them to factories in Israel, European countries and all over the world.”

But exporting batteries is still banned, and Ayyad is facing a new dilemma: He has about 500 tons of batteries accumulate­d in the warehouse.

He can’t resell, export or dump them, and he has been paying storage fees. He called on Hamas to speak to Egypt to facilitate their export.

Hamas and Egypt have boosted trade cooperatio­n in recent years through a crossing in the border town of Rafah. The crossing is used mainly to deliver goods such as constructi­on materials, fuel and tobacco products into Gaza. But it has also been used to ship scrap metal out to Egypt.

Research carried out in 2013 by a Gaza neurologis­t and an environmen­tal science expert warned that children of people dealing with discarded batteries have “different degrees” of poisoning from lead exposure.

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