The chlorine industry continues to be one of the United States’ biggest mercury polluters, Oceana said today in Poison Plants II, an updated version of the group’s groundbreaking report on mercury-emitting chlorine plants. Using the latest industry and government data, figures from 2003, Poison Plants II shows that despite supposed industry commitments to reduce mercury pollution, the only marked reduction in mercury releases to air by the nine plants that operated from 2002 to 2003 occurred as a result of one plant being idled during some of that period.
As in 2002, these nine chlorine facilities, which continue to use outdated mercury-cell technology to produce chlorine, are a major source of mercury emissions into the environment. They release far more mercury to the air per plant, on average, than coal-burning power plants. In fact, mercury-using plants remained the No. 1 source of mercury air pollution in seven of the eight states where they operated in 2003. Oceana’s report points out that plants could easily fix the problem by switching to readily available mercury-free technology already used by 90 percent of the chlorine industry.
Oceana has repeatedly called on the nine plants to shift to mercury-free technology. Last year, one of the nine, the Delaware City, Del. plant owned by Occidental Chemical (NYSE:OXY), announced it would shut down chlorine production entirely, thus eliminating the use of mercury at the plant. Another, PPG’s (NYSE:PPG) Lake Charles, La. facility, announced plans to shift to a modern, mercury-free production method.
“The decisions of the Louisiana and Delaware plants to stop using mercury will provide incredible benefits to the states’ residents and others, translating to mercury reductions of 27 and 77 percent statewide, respectively,” said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination. “Residents of other states deserve to see similar reductions, which can only happen if the other seven plants also shift to mercury free technology. The EPA hasn’t helped matters by doing so little to stop this unnecessary mercury pollution from chlorine companies.”
In addition to reported releases, U.S. mercury-cell plants have been unable to account for tons of mercury that are “lost” each year. In 2003, the industry “lost” 30 tons of mercury. Much of this lost mercury is believed to be released into the environment. If the bulk of it enters the environment annually, as many experts suspect it does, the chlorine industry would approach coal-fired power plants as the No. 1 mercury emitter.
Most mercury ingested by humans results from eating contaminated fish. Mercury can cause serious health problems, especially in children. An EPA scientist has estimated that one in six pregnant women has enough mercury in her blood to pose risks, such as brain damage, to her developing baby. In the United States, the EPA and the Food and Drug Administration cautioned women of childbearing age and children to limit the amount and types of seafood they eat due to the risk of mercury poisoning. Governments around the world have issued similar warnings.
Six companies – the Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN), Occidental Chemicals Corp., PPG Industries, ASHTA Chemicals, ERCO Worldwide, and Pioneer Companies, Inc. (OTC BB:PONR.OB) – are responsible for the nine mercury-cell chlorine plants cited in Poison Plants II. These plants continue to operate in seven states: Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana (2), Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.
“Chlorine plants are among America’s biggest and least regulated mercury polluters,” said Dawn Winalski, the report’s author. “They must clean up, and the only way this will happen is if they go mercury-free.”
To read Oceana’s report in its entirety, click here
To download high resolution photos of chlorine facilities for publication, click here