Armed with the latest data on the chlorine industry’s mercury emissions and personal pleas by hundreds of concerned citizens, Oceana again today called on ERCO Worldwide, Olin Chemical and PPG Industries to end rampant mercury pollution by the companies’ chlorine plants in Port Edwards, Wis., Augusta, Ga., and New Martinsville, W.Va. Oceana added to the mounting pressure on the companies to go mercury-free by holding simultaneous press conferences outside ERCO’s Port Edwards chlorine plant and Olin’s Augusta plant, as well as in front of PPG’s Pittsburgh headquarters. Event organizers also hand-delivered more than a thousand postcards signed by concerned citizens asking the companies to stop using mercury to produce chlorine.
“These companies’ 19th century plants are unnecessarily polluting our environment with massive amounts of toxic mercury,” said Jackie Savitz, director of Oceana’s Seafood Contamination Campaign. “Given that ninety percent of the chlorine industry has already gone mercury-free, it’s time for ERCO, Olin and PPG to join the 21st century and stop and stop emitting tons of poison that harms America’s families.”
Oceana used the events to unveil the latest figures from the Environmental Protection Agency on mercury emissions by the three companies. The data showed that, despite industry assertions to the contrary, mercury emissions from these plants stayed about the same from 2002 to 2003. The report also showed that the only way for the chlorine industry to achieve significant reductions in mercury pollution is by abandoning the use of mercury-cell technology. In fact, PPG recently committed to shifting its Lake Charles, La., chlorine facility to mercury-free technology, while a Delaware plant owned by Occidental Chemical announced that it would halt chlorine production altogether. Accordingly, Louisiana and Delaware can expect statewide mercury emission reductions of 27 percent and 70 percent expected respectively, due solely to the elimination of mercury use by these facilities.
“The impact of this pollution goes way beyond the borders of any one city or state,” said Sonal Bains, a Pittsburgh-based organizer who has been working with Oceana to raise awareness of the mercury issue. “This is a national problem, and once these companies clean up, we’ll all be able to sleep a little better knowing our food is safer to eat, our air is safer to breathe, and our water is safer to drink.”
Forty-five states issued fish consumption advisories due to mercury contamination in 2003, which amounted to 2,300 advisories across the country due to mercury contamination in recreationally caught fish. Twenty-one states warned citizens against eating fish from any and all lakes and rivers in the entire state, and eleven issued statewide mercury advisories in all coastal waters. In 2004, mercury-based fish advisories continued to increase and West Virginia issued a statewide advisory as well.
A scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimated that one in six American women has enough mercury in her blood to pose neurological risks to her developing baby. Mercury is particularly damaging to developing fetuses, which become contaminated when the mother has high levels of mercury in her system; however, toxic mercury also poses health risks to adults. Studies show that high mercury levels can cause neurological damage and memory loss, increase the risk of heart attack, and lead to several other health problems.