Oceana today called on Pennsylvania-based PPG Industries and Texas-based Pioneer Americas to publicly report on the status of 1.2 million pounds of liquid mercury believed to be stored on-site at two Louisiana chlorine facilities located in Lake Charles and St. Gabriel. The cities were in the paths of Hurricanes Rita and Katrina, respectively.
The plants store liquid mercury in dozens of large “cells,” each containing between 8,000 and 11,000 pounds of the highly toxic material, with at least 635 tons of mercury contained in these two facilities combined.
“To put this in perspective, the entire power industry releases about 45 tons of mercury each year,” said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Seafood Contamination campaign. “These two plants alone hold nearly 14 times that much, and it only takes half a pound of mercury to contaminate an 8,800 acre lake. With such a high potential for environmental catastrophe, and with residents now returning to their homes, these companies owe it to the citizens of Louisiana to account for the mercury and ultimately, to shift to mercury free technology.”
Together, the two plants are responsible for nearly half of Louisiana’s annual mercury releases to the environment, according to industry reports. They are two of nine U.S. chlorine facilities that continue to use outdated 19th century technology to produce chlorine, resulting in several tons of unnecessary mercury releases each year. The technology also creates a major liability during events such as hurricanes since, if spilled, the mercury is likely to contribute to the contamination of fish and other marine life, intensifying an already serious seafood contamination problem.
Oceana has repeatedly called on each of the six companies that own these nine plants to shift to readily available mercury-free technology, which is already used by 90 percent of the chlorine industry. PPG Industries recently committed to converting its Lake Charles facility, calling it a sound business decision. Pioneer Americas, owner of the St. Gabriel facility, has made no such commitment, and PPG has not yet agreed to convert its other mercury-based plant in Natrium, West Virginia.
“We hope Pioneer will reassess whether Louisiana is really a smart place to hold so much mercury,” said Savitz. “At times like this, we realize that the serious air and water pollution from these operating facilities could be the least of our worries. A natural disaster of the magnitude of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or one even stronger, could result in literally tons of spilled mercury, dwarfing releases by power plants. The public has a right to know the status of these mercury cells as well as the fate of all mercury potentially released into the environment.”
The conversion of PPG’s Lake Charles facility will reduce the state’s mercury emissions by 27 percent. If both Louisiana facilities were to convert, the state’s mercury emissions would nearly be cut in half.