Placard-waving protesters at the Chlorine Institute's annual meeting demanded today that the 210-member trade group tell six member-companies to clean up the last remaining chlorine plants in the nation that still use outdated mercury technology. Plant by plant, these dinosaur factories emit twice as much mercury on average as the top 100 mercury-emitting power plants.
International ocean conservation group Oceana led the street demonstration against the Chlorine Institute for harboring the six companies, which operate nine chlorine plants still using outmoded mercury-cell technology. These plants are the No. 1 source of mercury air pollution in seven of the eight states where they operate. Occidental's Delaware City facility, near Baltimore, is responsible for 75 percent of total mercury releases in Delaware. ASHTA Chemical's Ohio plant is the nation's fifth-largest mercury air polluter.
"It is inexcusable that the Chlorine Institute's 210 members are providing cover for companies that insist on using outdated and unnecessary mercury-polluting technology," Jackie Savitz, Oceana's Pollution Campaign Director, said at the protest at Baltimore's Marriott Waterfront Hotel. "Marylanders are coping with fish advisories for rockfish that contain mercury and other chemicals, while hosting the Chlorine Institute, which came to Baltimore with no apparent plan to phase out a major source of mercury pollution."
Mercury pollution by the nine plants, which Oceana dubbed The Nasty Nine, is needless and preventable. Ninety percent of U.S.-manufactured chlorine is made using modern, mercury-free technology. The European Union has required a phase-out of mercury use by chlorine factories in Europe by 2007, but there is no such plan in the United States. Mercury air pollution eventually accumulates in fish. The government now warns women and small children to limit consumption of mercury-tainted fish, such as canned tuna, because it can cause brain damage and other physical problems, especially in children.
Oceana's Jan. 26 groundbreaking report, called Poison Plants, exposed the six chlorine companies in the United States as a major source of mercury pollution. Oceana's analysis of industry and government data showed that the chlorine industry could not account for 123 tons of mercury - in addition to the 30 tons it admitted releasing - in 2000, 2002, and 2003. If even half of that "lost" mercury was released to the environment, the chlorine industry would rival coal-fired power plants as the nation's No. 1 mercury emitter. The analysis also showed that the average mercury-based chlorine plant released five times more mercury into the air than the average mercury-emitting power plant in 2002.
Five of the six mercury-polluting companies are publicly traded. The six are: The Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN); Occidental Chemicals Corp. (NYSE:OXY); PPG Industries (NYSE:PPG); ASHTA Chemicals; Vulcan Materials, Inc. (NYSE:VMC); and Pioneer Companies, Inc. (OTC BB:PONR.OB). The eight states where they operate the mercury-polluting chlorine factories are Alabama, Delaware, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
"It's hard to fathom why these companies refuse to shift to readily available, mercury-free technology," said Savitz. "especially when hundreds of thousands of women give birth each year to babies with dangerous levels of mercury in their blood. For the sake of these children, the Chlorine Institute should follow Europe's example and take immediate action to phase out mercury use in chlorine production."