For members of our Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination, the front page of today's Philadelphia Inquirer held a familiar image -- the smokestacks of Olin Corporation's Charleston,TN chlorine plant. Part three of a four-part investigative series called "Smoke and Mirrors: The Subversion of the EPA" focuses on the Olin plant's participation in EPA's Performance Track program despite its rank as the number one mercury polluter in Tennessee.
Since 2005, Oceana has been calling on Olin and other chlorine plants to stop using a 19th-century technology that emits hundreds of pounds of mercury pollution every year in favor of modern, mercury-free technology. And since then, Olin has stuck to its talking points. The company says its use of mercury is "careful and controlled" and repeatedly names its participation in Performance Track and its receipt of a Governor's Award for Hazardous Waste Management.
Well, if you know something about the chemistry of mercury, you know that it's not exactly "controllable" -- it evaporates very easily, especially when heated the way it is in Olin's plant, which uses vats of mercury to conduct electricity in order to break salt molecules apart into chlorine and caustic soda. And today's article concurs with our belief that these awards and programs can be great tools, or simply "smoke and mirrors," depending on who's running them.
Fortunately, a bill to ban this outdated, polluting technology by 2012 was introduced in the last session of Congress. Although it didn't get voted on, its chief sponsor will soon be President -- none other than Barack Obama.
We hope that's a sign that Oceana will be able to work with his office and Congress to get the bill passed -- and that a different tone will soon be set at the EPA.