Lead-acid batteries are one of the most commonly used independent and rechargeable energy supplies for automotives (cars, motorcycles starter, truck, etc.), for big appliances (e.g. off-grid household electric power system, portable TV)) as well as for torches, laptops, telephones, etc. They are also contained in UPS appliances (uninterruptable power supply).
Usually, a UPS is an easily identifiable separate unit, that is connected to the appliance by two wires. The following inscriptions can help to identify lead-acid batteries and to distinguish them from others batteries:
+ / - (for all batteries in general), lead, Pb, dry, SLA (Sealed Lead Acid battery), VRLA (Valve Regulated Lead Acid battery).
UPSs are usually easy to reach and disconnect from the appliance.
Hazardous substances: Lead (Pb), Lead oxide and Sulphuric acid
Lead is a global environmental contaminant. It is a threat for human being, animals and plants. It can be spread through air or water and can be accumulated in the ground. It is a poisonous metal that can damage the nervous system, especially in young children, causing mental retardation, memory and learning difficulties as well as behavioural problems. Pregnant woman should avoid contact with Pb. Basically; lead can affect almost every organ and system in body. According to the EPA (US Environmental Protection Agency), lead is a probable human carcinogen.
Sulphuric acid can be extremely corrosive.
Caution during dismantling
NEVER OPEN A BATTERY!
Usually they are not dangerous to handle when in undamaged condition, but be careful in handling when leakage due to mechanical damage can be observed.
Discharging them by short-circuiting (direct electrical connection between + and -) may rapidly increase heat and might lead to explosion. Especially large batteries can cause an electrical shock.
Caution during storage
Avoid long time storing. Batteries are subject to corrosion and cell rupture, which could release reactive hazardous substances (lead, sulphuric acid).
Avoid fire risk and contact with heat sources. All batteries should be stored in acid-resistant barrels.
They should be stored in a dry and sheltered place.
Batteries should be treated in an adequate plant. In any case, they should not be burned in an open fire or with municipal waste.
Source of information
Dismantling Guide for IT Equipment, which was elaborated within the SRI project and financially supported by SECO and UNIDO, June 2015