Oceana applauds Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for introducing the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act of 2009 (S. 1428) in the U.S. Senate today. The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), would phase-out the use of mercury technology in domestic chlorine production within two years. Specifically, it would require four renegade chlorine plants in the U.S. to transition to mercury free technology for the production of chlorine and caustic soda.
“Mercury in chlorine production is like lead in paint, dangerous yet unnecessary and totally preventable,” said Jacqueline Savitz, senior campaign director at Oceana. “The refusal of these four plants to switch to mercury-free technology is putting people’s health at risk because they are contaminating our air and water, and even their own products.”
Mercury is a dangerous neurotoxin. Exposure to harmful levels of mercury during fetal development can irreversibly impair a child’s brain functions. According to an Environmental Protection Agency scientist, one in ten women of childbearing age has enough mercury in her body to pose such risks to her unborn baby.
While 95 percent of chlorine produced in the United States uses a mercury-free process, four U.S. plants have continued to use outdated, mercury-dependent technology to produce chlorine and caustic soda. Meanwhile, technology that can eliminate the use of mercury in chlorine and caustic soda production has been available for decades.
“Mercury contamination in our air, land and water is a serious health threat; and when there’s technology readily available to reduce mercury pollution, we should use it,” said Senator Whitehouse, a member of the Senate Committee on the Environment and Public Works. “I’m grateful for Oceana’s work to highlight the dangers of mercury and appreciate their support.”
Four plants have failed to make investments in clean technology that would protect public health, and help them become more economically competitive. Modernizing these plants with cleaner technology would make them more efficient over the long-term and preserve local jobs, while protecting local communities from the dangers of mercury pollution.
“Failing to keep pace with their competitors puts jobs at risk at these four chlor-alkali plants,” said Savitz. “Mercury-free chlorine production protects jobs, saves money and prevents pollution.”
For example, one plant in Augusta, GA could save an estimated $17.6 million in energy costs alone over five years, according to Oceana’s calculations.
These chlorine factories release more mercury than the average coal-fired plant, making them top polluters in their states. A chlor-alkali production facility in Tennessee has historically been the number one source of mercury in the state, and the plant has impaired the river on which it’s located, according to local environmental officials.