Oceana, NRDC, and placard-carrying supporters rallied today at the Chlorine Institute’s annual meeting to call on the 219-member trade group to eliminate a major source of mercury pollution in the United States by requiring six of its members to clean up the nation’s few remaining chlorine plants that still use outdated mercury technology. The group delivered a petition, organized by Oceana and signed by more than 15,000 concerned citizens, demanding a shift to mercury-free technology. In addition, NRDC released a new report that documents mercury releases in the air around U.S. mercury-cell chlorine factories from on-site testing.
On average, mercury-cell chlorine plants release five times more mercury into the air than a typical mercury-emitting power plant. The NRDC report shows conclusively that pollution from these chlorine factories can seriously contaminate the air surrounding the plants. Oceana’s continued analysis of industry and government data shows that the chlorine industry could not account for more than 130 tons of mercury between 2000 and 2004, in addition to the more than 29 tons it admitted releasing the environment. If that “lost” mercury was released to the environment, the chlorine industry would rival coal-fired power plants as the nation’s top mercury emitter.
Today’s rallyers symbolically returned some of the chlorine industry’s so-called “lost” mercury by delivering hundreds of cans of tuna sent by fed-up citizens around the country.
“By continuing to provide cover for six companies that insist on using outdated and unnecessary mercury-polluting technology, the Chlorine Institute’s 219 members are doing themselves and the public a major disservice,” said Jacqueline Savitz, Director of Oceana’s Campaign to stop Seafood Contamination. “Hundreds of thousands of American women have enough mercury in their blood to pose neurological risks to their babies, yet the Chlorine Institute still has not announced a plan to phase out this major source of mercury pollution from a mere six of its members.”
“We need to eliminate as much mercury pollution at its source as we can. This common-sense campaign to end mercury use at chlorine plants is necessary to help stem the documented health impacts related to brain and nervous system development in children,” said Dr. Peter Orris, Professor of Environmental and Health Sciences at the University of Illinois, Chicago speaking for the Physicians for Social Responsibility.
Six companies operate eight chlorine plants that still use outmoded mercury-cell technology. These plants were the No. 1 source of mercury air pollution in seven of the eight states where they operate. ERCO Worldwide’s Port Edwards, Wis., facility, in the nearby fishing destination of Central Wisconsin, is the top source of mercury pollution in that state, and the 18th largest source of mercury air pollution in the U.S. ASHTA Chemical’s Ohio plant, on the coast of Lake Erie, is the nation’s seventh-largest mercury air polluter, and is No. 1 in Ohio.
Mercury pollution by these eight plants is needless and preventable. More than 90 percent of U.S.-manufactured chlorine is made using modern, mercury-free technology. Mercury pollution eventually accumulates in fish, and in people who eat a lot of fish. The Food and Drug Administration, Environmental Protection Agency, and state agencies are warning women and children to limit consumption of mercury-contaminated fish, such as canned white tuna, because of its potential to cause neurological damage, especially in children.
“The Institute claims as its core mission the safe production, distribution, and use of chlorine, yet each year these plants release six to eight tons of mercury to the environment and lose an additional 7 to 65 tons. This is the opposite of safe. The Institute should adhere to its mission by making mercury-free chlorine production a condition of membership.” Savitz said.
One of the original “nasty nine” plants closed its mercury operation in late 2005, cutting annual mercury releases to the air by 75 percent in Delaware. Another facility – PPG’s Lake Charles, La., plant – has announced its intention to go mercury-free by 2007. Plans for the additional seven plants have not been made public.
The six mercury-polluting companies are: The Olin Corporation (NYSE:OLN); Occidental Chemicals Corp. (NYSE:OXY); PPG Industries (NYSE:PPG); ASHTA Chemicals; ERCO Worldwide; and Pioneer Companies, Inc. (OTC BB:PONR.OB). The seven states where mercury-polluting chlorine factories still operate are Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Ohio, Tennessee, West Virginia and Wisconsin.