Aug 15, 2011

Gatwick Airport: The road is littered with good intentions

Leaking batteries cause issues for workers and the environment

On a recent trip to London, we noticed something odd at the North Terminal at Gatwick Airport: Very large rust-colored stains near large electrical recharging stations.

This struck us as interesting, as these type of stains are not actually rust, they are usually stains from battery acid leaks.  We've seen a lot, but we were astonished at the sheer quantity of  leakage, which has immediate environmental and health consequences, both to local water and soil quality, as well as workers at Gatwick.   It's possible that the charging stations have banks of lead-acid batteries, and hence are leaking at an unacceptable rate.

To explain, battery acid is sulfuric acid and is used in lead-acid batteries.  Since the lead plates are immersed in acid, the acid itself becomes highly concentrated with lead.  Typically, when batteries are recycled, the lead content is so significant that the acid is first leached through a contained soil mixture, encased in concrete and sent to a landfill.  It's certainly not something to casually allow to spill.

Curious, we did a bit of research and found that several years ago, Gatwick had initiated a highly laudable program to improve air quality, and one of the initiatives was to replace all gas vehicles at the North Terminal (not the South Terminal) with electric vehicles. Unfortunately for British Airways, it appears that the charging stations were all put right there in the BA area.

(Most modern electric vehicles of the type used in an industrial capacity use lead-acid batteries, as they are far cheaper than the NiCad or Lithium Ion batteries used on modern electric cars).

Unfortunately, one has to assiduously manage large-scale implementations of electric vehicles so that a) the vehicles don't leak battery acid (which they commonly do, unless one is using one of the more modern sealed types), and b) that banks of batteries don't leak acid as well.

We also noticed numerous other battery stains, throughout the tarmac and in various parking areas, indicating that the electric vehicles are also leaking.  

London Gatwick Airport has a problem, and they need it clean this up.  If the charging stations are leaking, they need to be cleaned up and sealed; and the batteries in the vehicles must be sealed, replaced or replaced with modern sealed AGM type batteries.

To wit, this is something even clearly perceivable from satellite:  Google Maps.

We'd prefer the use of gas or diesel if this is what you get instead.

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