The Beacon: jsavitz's blog

Arrival in Copenhagen

Jackie Savitz with one of Oceana's new ads in Copenhagen.

Our team of campaigners arrived in Copenhagen several days ago. Senior campaign director Jackie Savitz sent this first dispatch. Read the rest of the dispatches here. - Emily

On our arrival at "O-dark-thirty" in the morning, we were greeted in the airport by a series of advertisements, but not the kind you may be imagining. These ads featured a lobster, an oyster and a scuba diver, each bearing a similar message.  "The price of a lobster in 2050: 350 part per million." The price of the oyster and diving vacation is the same. The meaning may not be entirely obvious, but that's the point. These are ads that Oceana posted in the airport to greet incoming conference attendees.

We took out these ads to let people know that if we don't manage to reduce carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million soon, we may not have lobsters, oysters or dive vacations in 2050.  Hence, the price of making sure we have those things later this century is the price of achieving that target - leveling off our carbon emissions and then reducing the atmospheric level to 350 parts per million.

How on earth are we going to do that? Well, it's true it won't be easy, and it won't happen by accident. It will take a concerted effort by all of us, individuals and governments, to shift away from the use of fossil, or carbon-based, fuels.  We can only do this by developing and putting to use alternative fuels, like wind and solar energy.  This is what we mean by "shifting to a clean energy economy."  

Tens of thousands of people are expected to travel here to Copenhagen for this United Nations Conference and many of them will come in, just as we did, through the airport. They too will be greeted by the signs.  Train riders and some drivers will see the same ads on the Copenhagen metro system and on a large "jumbo board."  This is another way Oceana is bringing ocean acidification to Copenhagen in an effort to save the oceans.

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Get the Green List and Tell Your Grocer!

Yesterday, we launched our much anticipated "Green List" -- a directory of stores that care about their customers' health enough to post the FDA mercury advice at their seafood counters.  There are 11 grocery store chains included in the Green List. And of course, no Green List campaign would be complete without a corresponding "Red List!"  That would be the list of stores that has refused to post this important information at the seafood counter. There are 60 stores on that list.

The vision is obvious -- Since people have a right to know about mercury, we need to convince the Red List stores to get with the program -- to post the advice at the counters, and get on the Green List.

To make this happen, we need everyone's help.  While Oceana is keeping the pressure on, the group these companies are most likely to listen to is YOU, their customers. If we all get involved as shoppers, we can make fast work of this.  

So here are two easy things you can do:

Step One: Go to our new Green List web page and pledge to support companies who care about your health enough to post signs.  Simple, eh?

Step Two: Go tell your grocer you are concerned about mercury and you want to see signs at the seafood counter.  We hope to have 1,000 grocers alerted by the end of the year, so help us make that happen.

If we are all sending the grocers the same message, together in unison, then signs at seafood counters will be commonplace and millions of moms and dads will be armed with the information they need to shop for low mercury fish for their families.

Oh, I almost forgot -- Step Three: Tell your friends!

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"Nasty Nine": Three Down, "Sickening Six" to Go

Oceana's Campaign to Clean Up the Nasty Nine is progressing with three mercury-based chlorine plants now committed to either switch to go mercury free or shut down.  We're now "Through with three of the Nasty Nine, and have only the Sickening Six to go!"

Yesterday Occidental Chemical announced it would shut down its mercury-based factory in Muscle Shoals, Louisiana.

Here's more on our statement applauding Oxy and reminding the other five companies to get with the program:

"Oceana has been working for more than a year to get the nine plants that continue to use outdated mercury technology for chlorine production to shift to readily available mercury-free technology. Unfortunately, Occidental has not chosen to go that route for economic reasons, and this clearly has implications for dozens of workers for which we hope Occidental will find a just transition.

"Nonetheless, Oceana applauds Occidental for its elimination of mercury-based chlorine production in both its Alabama and Delaware facilities. This will lead to tremendous environmental and public health benefits, including the complete removal of the largest single source of mercury air emissions in the state of Alabama. We hope that Occidental will also engage in a careful and complete cleanup of any residual mercury that may be left on the site, so as not to repeat the mistakes made at the Olin facility in McIntosh, Alabama.

"Occidental's commitment to mercury-free production confirms that what we have been asking these companies to do is entirely achievable," Savitz said. "Olin Corporation, PPG, ERCO Worldwide, Pioneer, and Ashta Chemicals should watch closely and follow suit."

So what do you think of the "sickening six?"  What other "s"-words might work for these guys?

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Another Chlorine Plant to Go Mercury Free!

I'm happy to report that since our first chlorine report came out in January, 2005, a third mercury-based chlorine plant has announced it will stop using the polluting mercury technology that has been the focus of our campaign!  From the Nasty Nine to the Slimy Six!

Here is a clip from the recent story in the Florence, Alabama TimesDaily newspaper:

On Friday, Larry Meriage, vice president of communications and public relations for Occidental Petroleum, confirmed that the company plans to stop mercury cell production, which the Muscle Shoals plant uses to produce various chemicals.

"We have not yet determined how this will affect Muscle Shoals," Meriage said.

After Occidental Petroleum's senior management meeting Thursday in Los Angeles, speculation began circulating about the fate of the Muscle Shoals plant once the company halts mercury cell production.

An audio recording and accompanying presentation from the management meeting was published on the company's Web site.

A slide in that presentation did confirm that the company has plans to eliminate mercury production but did not mention the Muscle Shoals plant by name.

Meriage said there are multiple reasons that the company wants to halt mercury cell production.

"Part of it is environmental, and there are also newer technologies that are available," Meriage said.

The news was encouraging for several environmental groups.

Jackie Savitz, pollution control director for the Washington, D.C.-based environmental organization Oceana, applauded Occidental's plans.

"We hope Occidental will share with the public their timeline for making this shift, and when they do, we look forward to offering them our most sincere congratulations. This would be the third of the 'nasty nine' mercury-based chlorine plants to stop using mercury since we launched our campaign just over a year ago, and two of them were Occidental plants. The other six plants should follow Occidental's lead so we can take mercury out of the chlorine picture, once and for all."

The organization, which bills itself as "Protector of the World's Oceans" had targeted the Muscle Shoals plant as one of the nine most toxic chlorine producers in America because of the mercury cell production process used there.

It contends the mercury-cell process is 19th century technology and is a leading cause of mercury contamination in seafood.


Savitz said Oceana's goal has never been to see any of the chlorine plants that use the mercury cell process close. Instead, it was to see them switch to the mercury-free technology used by more than 90 percent of the chlorine industry, she said.

As part of their effort to call attention to the issue of mercury pollution in the Shoals, Oceana took hair samples from more than 75 residents to test for mercury contamination.

Savitz said Friday that Oceana only recently received results of the hair testing and has yet to compile them into a report. In looking over the results, Savitz did not notice anything alarming, she said.

Charles Rose, of Sheffield, president of the Shoals Environmental Alliance who helped organize the hair testing, said he also was pleased with Occidental's announcement that it is abandoning the mercury cell process in Muscle Shoals. "It's a step in the right direction."

We are still waiting to hear more details from the company as to their time frame for the shift, but we are all quite happy to see the number one mercury source in the state of Alabama, and the 19th biggest mercury air emitter in the United States, saying they'll clean up their act!

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$250,000 Reward for Reporting Pollution

This story is worth sharing.  Not only does it show a good deed being rewarded, but it also shows that there continue to be companies that are out there polluting the ocean, on purpose, and unless someone stands up for the oceans, they will get away with it.

Thanks to all the whistle-blowers out there, and for the rest of us, just something to remember: The bounty hunter provisions can pay off for people who know about illegal polluting activities like this --- hey, it's a better bet than winning on Survivor!

Vessel & Facility

Compliance News

June 2005 Edition

    DOJ Awards $250,000 to Four Filipino Seamen for Protecting the Environment

Four Filipino seamen received a total of $250,000 dollars from the U.S. Department of Justice for their initiative in protecting the environment. The four informed the U.S. Coast Guard of the actions of the M/V Katerina, a ship that was found to be in violation of international and U.S. environmental laws.

U.S. Embassy Chargé Joseph Mussomeli presented the cash awards to Jonathan Sanchez, Jimmy Piamonte, Florencio Tolentino and Richard Santillan during a ceremony held today at the U.S. Embassy in the Philippines.

Between February 2004 and September 2004 the M/V Katerina, a 600-foot, 16,320 ton vessel, illegally dumped large amounts of oil waste into the ocean. As a result of the statements given by Filipino seamen Jonathan Sanchez, Jimmy Piamonte, Florencio Tolentino and Richard Santillan, U.S. authorities learned that the captain, the owners and the engineers of M/V Katerina had violated U.S. and international environmental laws by devising an elbow pipe to bypass the oily water separator and discharge oily waste directly into the ocean. Engineers from the M/V Katerina also devised another pipe to discharge the sludge that had accumulated in the sludge tanks directly into the ocean, which they euphemistically labeled "the magic pipe."

Prior to any of the unlawful discharges, the engineers would telephone officers on the bridge, to determine whether other vessels were nearby or whether they were not too close to land, thus ensuring that the discharge could take place without risk of detection. In August 2004 the Captain of the M/V Katerina received a telex from the company's headquarters in Athens reminding him that the U.S. Coast Guard in Los Angeles was very strict and that he should take steps to remove the bypass pipe and ensure that the magic pipe was properly hidden. Engineers from the M/V Katerina hid the bypass pipe underneath the floorboards and the "magic pipe" in the engine room. On September 14, 2004 the vessel arrived in the Port of Long Beach, California. U.S. Coast Guard inspectors boarded the vessel. Captain Joannis Kallikis provided the Coast Guard with the ORB that falsely stated that the ship had been properly disposing of its oil waste. Based on information received from the four Filipino seamen -- Jonathan Sanchez, Jimmy Piamonte, Florencio Tolentino and Richard Santillan - who reported the existence of the bypass pipe as well as its hiding place, the U.S. Coast Guard reboarded the M/V Katerina on September 15, 2004. This time, the Coast Guard found the pipe.

Captain Kallikis instructed the chief engineer to lie to the Coast Guard about the pipe and the chief engineer in turn instructed all the members of the engine room not to cooperate with U.S. authorities, at the risk of losing their jobs. As a result of the action of the four seamen, who revealed the fraud, the U.S. Attorneys Office in Los Angeles procured guilty pleas from Captain Kallikis, Chief Engineer Eduardo Guinto, and Second Engineer Rolan Sullesta. DST Shipping, Inc. was also fined one million dollars. Three of the seamen, Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Piamonte, and Mr. Tolentino initially wrote letters to the Coast Guard outlining the violations by the M/V Katerina, including a diagram that showed where the hidden pipes were stored. Subsequently they recruited the ship's cook, Mr. Santillan, who outlined further violations. They continued to assist investigators until the conclusion of the case. At no time were the four seamen aware that they could receive money for their actions - they acted out of honesty and a higher sense of civic duty.

This was a significant case. Moreover, these seaman came forward at great personal expense to their careers. The seamen therefore received the maximum reward allowable under the law. For their courage in stepping forward, the U.S. Department of Justice awarded Mr. Sanchez, Mr. Piamonte, and Mr. Tolentino checks for $75,000 each. For Mr. Santillan's assistance with the case, the U.S. Department of Justice presented him with a reward of $25,000.

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