Poison: The High Cost Of Cheap Batteries

Cadmium batteries are cheap and safe to use, but hazardous to manufacture. They’ll save you money—about $1.50 for the average cadmium-powered toy, says the Wall Street Journal.

But cadmium batteries can be hazardous to make. In southern China, Wang Fengping worked for years in plants that produced cadmium batteries for the likes of Mattel Inc., Toys “R” Us Inc. and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. Like hundreds of her colleagues, Ms. Wang regularly inhaled the toxic red cadmium dust that filled the air in the plant.

Now, at 45, Ms. Wang is often too weak to walk. Her kidneys have failed, and her doctors have identified cadmium poisoning as the likely culprit. About 400 other workers at her former employer, Hong Kong-based GP Batteries International Ltd., have been found to harbor unsafe levels of cadmium, a toxic metal like mercury and lead that can cause kidney failure, lung cancer and bone disease.

Ms. Wang didn’t manufacture the batteries. She was a machine designer with an engineering degree. Most of her career was spent in an office, sketching designs, then between 2002-2004 she spent long hours in the production facilities, inhaling cadmium dust. Now she’s sick. The WSJ article details her lawsuit against the manufacturer as well as the history of cadmium battery production in the U.S. and the resulting clean-up of contaminated sites.

Some toy-makers, like Hasbro, have eschewed the use of cadmium in their products because of their toil on the environment and the health of the workers who manufacture the batteries. Mattel, however, still uses cadmium batteries, claiming that they have “performance advantages.” Walmart says it doesn’t buy or use cadmium batteries produced by the manufacturer that employed Ms. Wang, but declined to comment further.

Toxic Factories Take Toll On China’s Labor Force [Wall Street Journal] (Thanks, Aaron!)
Ms. Wang’s Blog [Yahoo!]