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Lead scrap use and trade patterns in the United States, 1995-2012

September 22, 2015

Since 1995, domestic production of lead has increasingly shifted from primary mining and smelting to the recovery of lead-bearing scrap by the secondary lead industry, which accounted for 91 percent of U.S. lead production in 2012. Increasingly stringent environmental regulations for lead emissions in the United States have contributed to the closure of primary lead refineries and the consolidation of the secondary lead industry. Domestic production of lead from the primary and secondary sectors in 2012 is essentially unchanged from the amount produced in 1995. The U.S. secondary industry produced an estimated 145,000 metric tons more refined lead in 2012 than it did in 1995, primarily by recovering lead from battery scrap, allowing the U.S. to maintain production at a level sufficient to supply much of the domestic demand for lead.

Exports of lead contained in batteries, electronics, and scrap and waste increased more than 380 percent from 1998 through 2011. Trade patterns of lead scrap products among Canada, Mexico, and the United States have changed since initiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement in 1994, providing more flexibility of movement of materials such as lead scrap among these three trading partners. Canada was the source of an average of 98 percent of the lead contained in scrap batteries imported into the United States during the period 1998 through 2012. Canada received about 92 percent of the lead contained in scrap and waste exported from the United States in 1998; Mexico received about 89 percent of the lead contained in battery scrap exported from the United States in 2012. Domestic secondary lead facilities have been able to maintain production because of increasing domestic and foreign supply of spent lead-acid vehicle batteries, which accounted for about 95 percent of U.S. secondary lead consumption in 2012. Increased industrialization in China, India, and the Republic of Korea has led to increased demand for lead concentrates, lead scrap, and refined lead from imported sources to supplement growing domestic production. Consequently, about 94 percent of the lead in ores and concentrate produced in the United States was exported to Asia in 2012 compared to about 18 percent in 1995, and about 72 percent of lead-based scrap was exported from the United States to Asian countries in 2012 compared to about 7 percent in 1995.


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