Lead-acid batteries are known to break from time to time. When they do, and the electrolyte begins to leak from its casing, you'll need to know how to react immediately and what the next steps are.

Do I need to do a 304 Notification?

EPCRA Section 304 is the Emergency Release Notification section of EPCRA. You are subject to this rule if your facility "produces, uses, or stores a hazardous chemical" and you "release a reportable quantity (RQ) of any EHS or of a hazardous substance as defined by the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) at your facility."

Sulfuric acid is the main chemical of concern in regards to 304 notifications. The RQs for 304 notifications are listed in Appendices A and B and also on the List of Lists. For sulfuric acid, the RQ is 1,000 pounds. It may be hard to quantify the total gallons or pounds of the spill, but if the battery shell is left with only the plates inside, you can work backwards to determine if the spill has exceeded the RQ based the percentage of sulfuric acid on the SDS.

Who do I notify?

Once you've determined that the spill has exceeded the RQ and you are subject to 304, what's the next step?

The federal regulations state that you must notify the "SERC and LEPC of any area(s) that are likely to be affected by the release." If the substance is also listed on the CERLCA list, the National Response Center (NRC) must be notified as well. The NRC's report hotline number is (800)424-8802. EPA has also published a list of State Contact Information for 304 Notifications, which you can find here.

What to Include in the Notification

EPA's website states you must include the following information. Check with your state as well, in case they require additional information.

  • The chemical name
  • An indication of whether the substance is extremely hazardous
  • An estimate of the quantity released into the environment
  • The time and duration of the release
  • Whether the release occurred into air, water, and/or land
  • Any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the emergency, and where necessary, advice regarding medical attention for exposed individuals
  • Proper precautions, such as evacuation or sheltering in place
  • Name and telephone number of contact person

The regulations say that gathering this information should not impede the notification on emergency response. If you have hazardous chemicals at your facility, it's best to prepare for this type of notification well ahead of a spill. Many facilities choose to post this information by a facility phone or in an accessible area so the information can be gathered quickly. The immediate notification should be conducted orally, over the phone.

Follow-up

After the initial notification is made and the release has been contained, a follow-up written report must be submitted to the SERC and LEPC. Unless this event occurred during transportation or from storage incident to transportation, the written follow-up must be submitted as soon as practicable. In the written notice, you must provide and update the information that was reported in the immediate notification and include the following additional information:

  • Actions taken to respond and contain the release
  • Any known or anticipated acute or chronic health risks associated with the release
  • Where appropriate, advice regarding medical attention necessary for exposed individuals

Source: 40 CFR 355.40(8)(b)

EPA does not have a prescribed format for this notification, and only states that it should be written. Check with your SERC to see if they have a required or preferred format. For example, Indiana requires the 304 follow-up notification to be submitted via their Tier II Manager portal. Some states, like Texas, have issued a timeframe for the follow-up notification.

Cleanup

In the midst of notifying the appropriate parties and keeping everyone safe, cleaning up the spill is another task you'll need to complete to mitigate the situation. Most SDSs provide cleanup information in case of a spill or release, so be sure to check those well in advance. It's recommended to have the proper PPE and spill kit items handy in case of an emergency, so you can clean up the spill quickly. Some items that you may need to clean up the spill are:

  • Proper PPE (Safety glasses, gloves, Tyvek suit, etc.)
  • First aid Kit Nearby
  • Eye Wash Station and/or safety shower
  • Empty drums or buckets for spill cleanup material (make sure they are rated for the waste that you are adding to it, i.e, corrosive in plastic vs. metal)
  • Neutralizing absorbent
  • Absorbent mats, socks, or barriers
  • Waste labels

When the absorbed acid and cleanup material are packaged up into a bucket or drum, be sure to label it appropriately. If the acid was neutralized, it's possible the waste can be considered non-hazardous, but be sure to do your due diligence with analysis, if necessary. If the acid wasn't neutralized and just absorbed, the waste can be considered hazardous depending on your state's regulations. For instance, California considers any solid when mixed with an equivalent weight of water that produces a liquid that corrodes steel at a rate greater than 6.35 mm per year to be hazardous.

Once packaged and properly labeled, work with your hazardous waste contractor to pick up the containers for disposal. The broken lead-acid battery casing might be able to be salvaged. Most hazardous waste treatment companies have contracts with lead-acid battery recyclers, so they can arrange for recycling if it's possible.