GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip (AP) 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 have helped to mitigate one crisis. They are also causing another crisis as large quantities of old and used batteries accumulate in an area that lacks the ability to safely dispose them.
There is a real risk that these batteries are randomly collected and stored in the open, not in warehouses, according to Mohammed Musleh, an official of Gazas Environment Authority.
He stated that the most serious threat to the battery’s integrity is the release of sulfuric acid-containing liquid into the soil and water aquifer.
According to the Gaza Environment Authority, there are 25,000 tonnes of old batteries scattered across the small and overcrowded territory. There are no recycling facilities in Gaza, and Egypt and Israel have imposed a severe blockade that prevents the safe shipping of batteries abroad.
According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency used batteries pose a number of threats to the environment and public health. While different types of batteries may contain dangerous metals, such as mercury, lead, or cadmium; some batteries can catch on fire.
These risks are especially acute for Gaza, where the health-care system is already in crisis and the environment is already in a difficult place. High saline levels from overextraction have rendered almost all of Gaza’s water unusable.
Israel bombed Gaza’s only power plant in 2006 during fighting and imposed a blockade on Egypt in the following year, after Hamas militants seized control of the strip from other Palestinian forces. The result was a daily blackout lasting at least eight hours. This was punctuated by longer outages that can last days during winter storms and conflicts.
This has made batteries an integral part in the daily lives of the 2 million residents of the territory.
The hazardous waste unit in Gaza City is used to dispose of batteries. Ahmed Abu Abdu is the head of this hazardous waste unit. He says that very few batteries reach his facility. Instead, a small private business has emerged.
Every day, people in Gaza call over loudspeakers to ask for old batteries. Old batteries can be sold for as little as $1 depending on their size.
Khaled Ayyad is just one of many merchants who purchase the old batteries. He has been collecting the batteries for eight years and storing them in a warehouse in northern Gaza.
Ayyad has only one goal: to export the battery 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.
Exporting batteries is still illegal, and Ayyad finds himself in a new quandary: He has 500 tons of batteries in his warehouse.
He cannot resell, export, or dump them and has been paying storage fees. So, he sent a message out to Hamas: We request that the Egyptian officials speak with us about exporting them to Gaza.
There is a precedent. In recent years, trade cooperation between Egypt and Hamas has been boosted by a crossing in Rafah. This crossing is used to transport goods into Gaza, such as fuel, construction materials and tobacco products. It can also be used to ship scrap metal to Egypt.
Ayyads warehouse is concrete, but most other storage locations are outside, which can lead to spillages of hazardous materials directly into the soil.
Although there have not been any studies on the environmental threat, research done in 2013 by a Gaza neurologist and an environmental scientist showed that children who handle discarded batteries can be poisoned with lead.
Hamas authorities have since 2017 banned the importation of secondhand batteries in an effort to reduce danger.
Al-Mezan Center for Human Rights in Gaza, which is based in Gaza, issued a 2018 report warning of the danger of batteries.
Hussein Hammad, of the rights group, stated that there is an issue. Here, the batteries have started to affect human rights: the right to health, the right to clean environment and the right to life.”