Monday, April 20, 2009

Lost and Found: where did all the Mercury Go?

Tonight, the City will meet to discuss finalizing the waterfront redevelopment master plan.

What's missing from the discussion? How do we account for and clean up mercury and other toxic industrial contaminants from the site?

Mercury is an invisible, odorless poison that can pollute oceans and rivers, contaminate our food and seep into the air, potentially causing severe health problems when ingested by humans.

A major source of mercury pollution is chlor-alkali chemical manufacturing plants.

Georgia Pacific operated a chlor-alkali plant at the Bellingham pulp and paper mill site, releasing mercury-laden water into surface treatment ponds on the site.

No one disputes the fact that the ground water and soil is contaminated with significant levels of mercury. During the 1970's, in an attempt to prevent mercury from moving to the bay from the soil and groundwater, Georgia Pacific retained a company to do what is called a "chem fix." For the sake of simplicity, A chem fix is a process that "cements" the contaminants in place.

The clean up was conducted without Dept of Ecology or EPA oversight, even though the site was on the Superfund list. Georgia Pacific admits to depositing 12 tons of mercury in the chemfix.

12 Tons of Mercury...

According to a 2005 analysis of Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data by the environmental group Oceana, the nine chlor-alkali plants in operation in 2000 reported purchasing and ostensibly using 79 tons of mercury and releasing 14 tons. The other 65 tons could not be accounted for.

The industry and the EPA have speculated that the "lost" mercury may be caught in the infrastructure inside the facilities, but EPA analyses of contamination at closed plants have not found nearly enough to account for the discrepancy between the mercury consumption and emissions.

Where did the mercury go?

The enclosed paper demonstrates that the operators of former and existing chlor-alkali plants cannot account for the tons of mercury lost each year - for mercury that winds up in the ground, air and water.

What are the health risks for Americans living near or on top of old chlor-alkali plants?

FULL ISSUE PAPER IN PDFAdobe Acrobat file (size: 5.3 MB)

Executive Summary
NRDC Investigation Uncovers Further Cause for Alarm
EPA Studies Support Findings of Elevated Mercury Levels
The EPA Fails to Address the Mercury Problem
Detailed Sampling Results

Department of Ecology Documents (including references to dumping dredged materials out in Bellingham Bay. (PSDDA)

Draft Supplemental Remedial
Investigation & Feasibility Study
Volume 2: FS Report

Some of the original Chemfix documents:

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