Q. Back in 2005, you responded to a question regarding the reporting of sulfuric acid in lead/acid batteries for SARA 302/311/312 reporting. You had estimated that sulfuric acid would be about 18% of the weight of the battery. Is this still a good estimate? G.M.
A. You are referring to reporting requirements under the Superfund Authorization and Reauthorization Act (SARA) and the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-Know Act (EPCRA) that require facilities to report hazardous and toxic chemicals if the amounts on site exceed applicable thresholds. There are two categories of chemicals: extremely hazardous substances (EHS) which typically have low thresholds; and OSHA hazard communication (hazcom) chemicals, which have a 10,000-lb threshold. For lead/acid batteries, sulfuric acid is an EHS and lead is a hazcom chemical.
Since OSHA has determined that lead/acid batteries typically used in fork trucks and for emergency lighting are not article exempted, you need to consider their constituents when evaluating your facility for chemical reporting. If you have Material Safety Data Sheets (MSDS) for the batteries, you can use that data to estimate the amount of sulfuric acid and lead the batteries contain.
However, if this data is not available, you will need to depend upon other sources. Based on our experience and a few guidance documents, the weight of electrolyte can range from 10–45% of the battery and sulfuric acid weight can be 20–40% of the electrolyte; per USEPA guidance to use the maximum percentages of a range when dealing with unknowns, this yields 18% by weight. Our experience also shows the weight of lead in batteries can range from 60–70%, so we use 70% if an MSDS is not available.
So, if the maximum total amount of sulfuric acid, including that in lead/acid batteries, exceeds the threshold of 500 lb, then sulfuric acid needs to be reported as an EHS. If the amount of lead in the lead/acid batteries exceeds 10,000 lb, then lead has to be reported.
If you do have to report (most states require the infamous “Tier II” report form), you have several options. If you are just reporting sulfuric acid, you can do so by itself (we typically use a description like “Sulfuric battery acid” or “Sulfuric acid–lead/acid battery”) or you can report “lead/acid batteries” and list sulfuric acid as a component of the mixture.
If you are reporting both sulfuric acid and lead, you can report “lead/acid batteries” and include a copy of MSDS. Alternatively, you can list each separately using above descriptions for sulfuric acid and “lead–batteries” as a component.
For EHS chemicals, you are required to report to your State Emergency Response Commission (SERC) and Local Emergency Planning Committee (LEPC) within 60 days and to your local fire department within three months of exceeding threshold. For hazcom chemicals, you are required to report to the above agencies within three months of exceeding threshold. There is also an annual report that is due March 1 of each year.