battery industry

Company processing scrap batteries endangered its workers with carcinogenic substances

SungEel Hitech Hungary Kft., a company in Bátonyterenye that recycles lithium-ion batteries, has seriously endangered its workers, and the labour safety authority has ordered the company to pay a fine of eight and a half million HUF (approximately 23500 USD). According to the decision imposing the fine, 13 people were exposed to serious risks. The authorities have already fined the waste-processing company several times for serious failings, and it is now looking to increase its capacity to 52,000 tonnes a year. 

Exceeding air pollution limits, workers exposed to carcinogens, serial breaches of health and safety regulations – these are just a few items from the decision listing the health and safety violations committed by South Korean-owned SungEel Hitech Hungary Ltd. in recent years.

The Hungarian government provided 2.8 billion HUF in non-refundable subsidies for the 9.3 billion HUF investment in Bátonyterenye, which was handed over in July 2021, reported two years ago.

The plant is the second factory of the South Korean-owned company (SungEel Hitech Hungary Kft.) in Hungary, the first one is in Szigetszentmiklós. In Bátonyterenye, Nógrád county, the plant mainly receives and processes 28,000 tonnes of scrap batteries from Samsung SDI in Göd and SK Battery in Komárom, Hungary.

The Bátonyterenye plant received the largest amount of waste batteries from the Samsung battery factory in Göd: in the first and second quarters of 2022, this amount was about 3,300 tonnes of waste. During processing, recyclable metal oxides and graphite are recovered from the waste lithium-ion batteries used in electric vehicles. They also process and recycle the waste water sludge of NMP (N-methyl-2-pyrrolidone), a toxic solvent used in cathode production.

Ju Szuk Koh, Vice President of Samsung C&T Corporation, Mayor József Nagy-Majdon, Min In Hvan, President of KDB Bank Europe Zrt., Park Chul Min, Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to Hungary, Ji Kang Mjung, President of SungEel Hitech Kft., Tamás Menczer, State Secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, responsible for information and international promotion of Hungary, Hjun Jung, President of Samsung SDI Hungary Zrt. Mirtyll Oszlánszki, representative of the National Investment Promotion Agency (HIPA), Kil Jung Szong, Director of LG Electronics Poland and Park Jung Csull, Managing Director of SungEel Hitech Ltd. (b-j) cut the national ribbon at the opening ceremony of the second plant of SungEel HiTech Hungary Ltd. in the industrial park of Bátonyterenye on 7 July 2021 (Photo: MTI/Peter Komka)

Last year we wrote that in July 2022, a “technological explosion” occurred at the plant during a trial run of a new piece of equipment, three people injured. Before the accident, the company had already been fined 3 million HUF for starting operations without a disaster management permit and for storing Big Bag bags containing metal oxide waste containing heavy metals in the open air, without being able to provide safety data sheets for the hazardous substances.

Mass endangerment

Following a FOI request from the Pest County Government Office, we have received the latest decision on the extensive fine of HUF 8.5 million. It lists 24 points of serious failings by the company that endangered the health and safety of its workers.

According to the decision, biological monitoring tests carried out on eighteen of the company’s workers in March last year showed results above the limit values, and the level of air pollution in the workplace was also significantly above the permitted values.

Although the names of the hazardous substances have been left out of the decision, there are several places where it can be read that workers were exposed to carcinogens.

The decision concludes that the workers have been exposed for more than one month. The failures include poorly functioning air filtration equipment, dust containing dangerous substances escaping, not all workers wearing protective equipment and not everyone being informed that they would be working with carcinogens.

Extract from the decision of the Pest County Government Office of 4 November 2022 (Source: Decision)

A battery charger exploded: three people injured

Another document of the Nógrád County Emergency Management Directorate imposed a fine of 1 million HUF for an explosion accident in July 2022. According to the official decision, a machine for grinding and drying battery cells exploded during a test run, injuring three people.

The investigation found that the exploded plane was not included in the safety documentation for which the company had obtained a disaster management licence, so it could not have been used.

According to another document, the company had to pay an environmental fine because it started operating the air polluting point sources without a permit.

The disaster management authority does not consider the capacity increase justified

In October 2022, SungEel Ltd. applied to the authorities for a capacity expansion permit to increase the amount of batteries to be processed and recycled to 52 thousand tonnes per year.

The amount of waste received by SungEel Hitech Hungary Kft. in 2021 and in the first and second quarters of 2022 (Source: Full Environmental Review documentation).

The decision to close the procedure contains shocking data. In April 2022, a groundwater test was carried out at the plant, which showed that several toxic substances exceeded the limits allowed in groundwater.

The disaster management authority wrote:

“On the basis of the above, I do not consider it justified to expand the capacity of the site at this time.”

Written and translated by Zsuzsa Bodnár. The original, more detailed Hungarian version of this story can be found here.