The Beacon

Mercury Pollution Reduction Act

It is well known that mercury, released by coal-fired power plants, chlor-alkali facilities, and other industrial and natural processes, causes numerous harmful human health effects. Yet mercury releases continue to be a widespread problem threatening  both humans and wildlife throughout the United States.

The United States Geological Survey found fish contaminated with mercury in every one of the 291 streams that it sampled throughout the lower 48 states as a result of mercury air pollution. The United States Environmental Protection Agency also found mercury contamination in every fish it tested from 500 US lakes that it sampled. In fact, half of the  lakes and reservoirs tested had mercury levels above those that EPA considers acceptable for human health protection.

Four chlor-alkali facilities in the United States continue to needlessly release large amounts of mercury into the air and environment around them. While these plants are using mercury to make the chemical chlorine, mercury use in that process is entirely unnecessary.  In fact, 95 % of the chlorine produced in the United States is made without using this highly toxic chemical. It is time for the rest of the chlor-alkali industry to catch up, by eliminating mercury use at these last four plants.

Conversion to mercury-free technology can provide a whole array of financial and economic benefits, in addition to cleaner Air and improved water quality . By converting to the last four facilities to a newer, cleaner production technology, chemical companies can create and save hundreds of jobs and extend the operating life of the plants by 30 years or more. A switch to mercury-free chlorine production is cost effective in part because it can increase energy efficiency by up to 37 percent. As a result of this added efficiency, much of the conversion cost can often be recovered within five years of the conversion.

Conversion to mercury-free technology in the chlor-alkali sector creates and saves jobs

 

Converted Facility

Year

Cost

Conversion Timeframe

Jobs Saved

Jobs created

Westlake Chemicals

Calvert City, Kentucky

2002

$86.1 m

18 months

430

250-300

PPG Industries

Lake Charles, Louisiana

2007

$90 m

24 months

N/A

250[i]

ERCO Worldwide

Port Edwards, Wisconsin

2009

$95 m

27 months

81

N/A

Olin Corporation

St. Gabriel, Louisiana

2008

$142 m

31 months

90

200

 

The Mercury Pollution Reduction Act (H.R. 2190/S. 1428), a bill currently pending in both houses of Congress, would mandate an industry-wide technology switch by mid-2015, effectively eliminating mercury from chlorine production. The legislation strikes a balance between economic and environmental concerns. Given the amount of time needed for past conversion projects (18 to 31 months), companies would have more than ample time to safely update their production technology. If a facility refuses to modernize, the factory will be required to cease its mercury-based operations by the middle of 2013.

This bill would help to modernize the US chlor-alkali industry, bringing it up to speed with countries like Japan, which banned mercury-cell technology back in the 1980’s. Contact your Representative and Senators and ask them to support the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act (H.R. 2190/S. 1428).

 

 


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