BU-703: Health Concerns with Batteries

Become familiar with the dos and don’ts when handling batteries.

Batteries are safe, but precaution applies when touching damaged cells and when handling lead acid systems that have access to lead and sulfuric acid. Several countries label lead acid as hazardous material, and rightly so. Let’s look at the hazards if not properly handled.

Lead is a toxic metal that can enter the body by inhalation of lead dust or ingestion when touching the mouth with lead-contaminated hands. If leaked onto the ground, the acid and lead particulates contaminate the soil and become airborne when dry. Children and fetuses of pregnant women are most vulnerable to lead exposure because their bodies are developing. Excessive levels of lead can affect a child’s growth, cause brain damage, harm kidneys, impair hearing and induce behavioral problems. In adults, lead can cause memory loss and lower the ability to concentrate, as well as harm the reproductive system. Lead is also known to cause high blood pressure, nerve disorders, and muscle and joint pain. Researchers believe that Ludwig van Beethoven became ill and died from lead poisoning. 

The sulfuric acid in a lead acid battery is highly corrosive and is potentially more harmful than acids used in other battery systems. Eye contact can cause permanent blindness; swallowing damages internal organs that can lead to death. First aid treatment calls for flushing the skin for 10 to 15 minutes with large amounts of water to cool the affected tissues and to prevent secondary damage. Immediately remove contaminated clothing and thoroughly wash the underlying skin. Always wear protective equipment when handling the sulfuric acid.

Cadmium, which is used in nickel-cadmium batteries, is considered more harmful than lead if ingested. Workers at NiCd manufacturing plants in Japan have been experiencing heath problems from prolonged exposure to the metal, and governments have banned the disposal of nickel-cadmium batteries in landfills. The soft, whitish metal that occurs naturally in the soil can damage kidneys. Cadmium can be absorbed through the skin by touching a spilled battery. Since most NiCd batteries are sealed, there are no health risks in handling them. The caution applies when working with an open battery.

Nickel-metal-hydride is considered non-toxic and the only concern is the electrolyte. Although toxic to plants, nickel is not harmful to humans. Lithium-ion is similarly benign — the battery contains little toxic material. Nevertheless, caution is required when working with a damaged battery. When handling a spilled battery, do not touch your mouth, nose and eyes, and wash your hands thoroughly.

Keep small batteries out of children’s reach. Children younger than four are most likely to swallow batteries, and the most common types ingested are button cells. Each year in the United States alone, more than 2,800 kids are treated in emergency rooms after swallowing button batteries. Serious injuries or deaths as a result taking in button batteries has increased nine fold in the last decade (2015 report).

The battery often gets stuck in the esophagus (the tube that passes food).  Water or saliva creates an electrical current that can trigger a chemical reaction producing hydroxide, a caustic ion that can cause serious burns the surrounding tissue. Doctors often misdiagnose the symptoms, which can show as fever, vomiting, poor appetite and weariness. Batteries that make it through the esophagus often move through the digestive tract with little or no lasting damage. The concern of a parent is not only to choose safe toys, but also to keep small batteries away from young children.

Safety Tips

Charging batteries in living quarters should be safe. This also applies to lead acid. Ventilate the dwellings regularly as you would a kitchen when cooking. Lead acid produces some hydrogen gas but the amount is minimal when charged correctly. Hydrogen gas is explosive and one would need a concentration of 4% to create an explosion. This level would only be achieved if large lead acid batteries were charged in a sealed room.

Over-charging a lead acid battery can produce hydrogen-sulfide. The gas is colorless, very poisonous, flammable and has the odor of rotten eggs. Hydrogen sulfate also occurs naturally during the breakdown of organic matter in swamps and sewers; it is also present in volcanic gases, natural gas, and some well waters. Being heavier than air, the gas accumulates at the bottom of poorly ventilated spaces. Although noticeable at first, the sense of smell deadens and potential victims may be unaware of its presence. As a simple guideline, hydrogen sulfide becomes harmful to human life if the odor is noticeable. Turn off the charger, vent the house and stay outside until the odor disappears. To learn about potential hazards when incorrectly charging Li-ion, see Lithium Safety Concerns.


When charging an SLA with over-voltage, current limiting must be applied to protect the battery. Always set the current limit to the lowest practical setting and observe the battery voltage and temperature during charge.

In case of rupture, leaking electrolyte or any other cause of exposure to the electrolyte, flush with water immediately. If eye exposure occurs, flush with water for 15 minutes and consult a physician immediately.

Wear approved gloves when touching electrolyte, lead and cadmium. On exposure to skin, flush with water immediately.

Last Updated 1/23/2015

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On March 15, 2011 at 8:48pm
BWMichael wrote:

It is good to learn that NiCd can be absorbed through the skin, considering i work with batteries all day. That tells me to be more careful now, thanks

On May 25, 2011 at 12:19pm
felix wrote:

could you please provide me the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) for Acid lead battery.

On July 11, 2011 at 7:30pm
Harry Staszewski wrote:

The article mentioned using approved gloves. Please describe what gloves are approved.
Thank you.

On January 5, 2012 at 3:29am
Anand wrote:

Thanks.. I’m using a lead acid battery in my home’s alternate energy system and this will give me a word of caution

On June 3, 2012 at 9:28pm
juan bustamante wrote:

when a charger that holds 4 energizer batteries (AA)is plugged in, I could smell a very pungent smell. I was told this is very unhealthy and could cause serious medical conditions. How true is this

On June 11, 2012 at 11:48pm
lily wrote:


On January 14, 2013 at 2:28am
Mark p wrote:

I was curios and I opened a rayvok heavy duty battery, and so I opened it all the way to see what was inside. I got to the inside and it looked like wet dirt .. I think I touched some but no really . Later I had a little eye burning but I had contacts on so I washed em out and rinsed my eyes . I then later felt like if I was high , so I thought they’re must be chemicals that I inhaled :o so I’ve been researching . And I wanna know . Can sitting at a desk opening up (12 volt) and expose the inside of battery and get some sort of inhales exposure ... Is that bad ?? I meen I wasn’t sniffing it or nothing my nose was like 1 foot and 8 inches away at least ?  Help?? Anxiety is killing me over this

On March 9, 2013 at 11:31pm
ram agarwal wrote:

my battery was not giving enough power o i was advised to remove the distilled water and pour fresh one in. But by mistake i put in petrol. As soon as i got to know the mistake i poured it out only to find it coming it out in black liquid. Can i pour in distilled water after rinsing it with same and still use the battery? Quick reply would be appreciated.
Thank you.


On March 21, 2013 at 5:33am
michaelawlker wrote:

This is very nice information in above article. Bacterias are also affect on kids. The small coin-sized batteries found in many toys, electronics and singing greeting cards could be life-threatening in children.

On March 22, 2013 at 12:58pm
nichola gould wrote:

hi could u please tell me if burnt batteries are bad for your helath and what harm can they do

On March 27, 2013 at 8:24pm
Staw wrote:

I am working with 15 dry batteries in a room. My room is 12x18 feet with running well air-conditioner. Battery name is “Su-Kam” Power Bank. SPB 50 ; 12v 50ah/10hr

Please any advise for me.

On June 8, 2013 at 9:37pm
abdul aleem k wrote:

i will b pleased to know how to get rid of smell of acid emanating from battery used in inverter and oblige.

On July 7, 2013 at 9:43am
todd hh wrote:

i work for a cell phone data wiping center and touch probably 400 cell phone batteries a day (mostly blackberry phones). even after washing my hands 5 or 6 times my fingers still smell like batteries but it usually goes away by the next day until handling them again. i was wondering if there are any health concerns with touching these batteries 40 hrs a week. should i be wearing gloves?

On August 24, 2013 at 6:08pm
mike wrote:

i had a lithium battery explode and gas leaked and i accidentally breathed some in. will 1 time exposure be cause for concern?

On August 26, 2013 at 11:34pm
Tarci wrote:

During maintenance the company i used to work for would after testing wash the batteries ,with water and let it run off to some Ponds, what are the environmental effects around that, Please kindly assist, PS(i don’t seem to see any questions answers on the commentaries)

On August 28, 2013 at 10:50am

I purchased a Turnigy 25-35 discharge 1300mAh 6 cell months ago. Had need for it tried charging got error message not connected checked and found a tab that entered the end cell (+) had pulled out from the top of a flat cell where the tab entered the aluminum foil cell-pack. Out of warranty so my thought was to split the front fold & the rear foil so I could solder the broken tab back together. But I can’ t separate the top seam.  Next step i thought I would seek help.  Should I open the foil pack on top at the broken tap I would then be inside the cell package. and re-attach a tab or wire to inside the foil package. This would expose the guts to air & seal it back with glue (silicone, epoxy… duct tape and glue. Thank you Brooks

On October 18, 2013 at 5:00pm
shaulad wrote:

respected sir,
i am sleeping on batteries putings room , any other probles my body ,say sir true comment,

On October 21, 2013 at 3:24pm
Jane wrote:

I am wondering if the electronic car battery will harm to the human body since it carries a huge amount batteries and needs to be charged everyday.

On November 5, 2013 at 3:58am
mary Kal wrote:

Is using an exercise bike operated by 4 AA nickel metal hydride batteries harmful to a persons health in any way. Thank you

On November 14, 2013 at 12:17pm
Hind wrote:

Hello ,
Please I Need to know what are the environmental standard for water pollutants for lead acid battery facility that are regulated by the EPA ?

On November 17, 2013 at 10:26pm
griffin wrote:

This sound stupid but i have been microwaveing stuff for my channel on youtube, how can the batteries that light on fire/explode afect me.  Any fumes i should be aware of so i dont brethe them.  If so what effect could the fumes cause.

On November 25, 2013 at 11:49pm
Pbserver wrote:

Oh man, reading through some of these comments I realise that there are indeed some crazy people out there. Where do they all hide during the day?

On November 26, 2013 at 1:22pm
griffin wrote:

They are all away in the dump.  I want to know weather it is safe to breath near them.

On November 27, 2013 at 1:14am
maria wrote:

Hello, I need to know how is the smell of leacking Lithium batteries in relation to chemical reactions involved. Thanks for your help!


On December 1, 2013 at 12:16pm
griffin wrote:

It’s hard to explain because i don’t microwave them on their own. Basically they light fire and explode burning the electronic that they are in. So I guess they chemical reaction is it expand, leaks, and maybe evaporates.

On January 11, 2014 at 8:05am
Karlee wrote:

I touched an opened battery by accident and i washed my hands for about 3mins. How do I know when the battery fluid is off my hands ? They still smell like batteries is that bad?

On July 29, 2014 at 9:25pm
FireIce wrote:

Put out lithium battery fires immediately with a FireIce extinguisher. Geltech.com

On October 15, 2014 at 2:45am
RASHID wrote:

I am working in an automotive company. We are sitting in a small room with running well air – conditioner. Our company warranty batteries (12V 80ah 700A) is keeping in our room, so that is their any health problem will come in future?

Please any advice for me.

On November 21, 2014 at 3:49pm
Miles wrote:

Is anyone aware of the risks (if any) during a charge of a mobility scooter battery, specifically the: WKDC12-35J 12V 35Ah Werker Deep Cycle AGM Battery?

Thank you for your help!


On January 24, 2015 at 1:33pm
Daniel wrote:

Can electrolyte kill you if touched on the fingers?

On March 12, 2015 at 4:51am
Jaz wrote:

Just accidentally washed and dried my clothe with a AA battery. Is my clothe safe to wear? There was no leaks on the batterie. Please advise, thank you.

On March 12, 2015 at 1:23pm
Dr. Miles Whitley wrote:

Dear Jaz,
    To my knowledge, as long as the battery was intact after the washing and drying, there should be no problem wearing your clothes.
    However, to be absolutely sure and to further ease your mind, I would suggest calling the toll-free number for the battery company and ask them for their feedback about your situation.
    I hope this information is useful to you.

Best regards,
Dr. Miles Whitley