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December 10, 2010

A Big Win for Safer Seafood

I hope you’re not tired of good news — because we have another big dose for you today.

Olin Corporation announced today that it will phase out the use of mercury in its chlor-alkali manufacturing process in its Charleston, Tennessee facility by the end of 2012. Plus, the company plans to turn its Augusta, Georgia plant into a bleach plant and distribution center, discontinuing chlor-alkali manufacturing (and thus, mercury use).  

The Tennessee facility is the largest mercury-based factory left in the United States. Built in 1962, Olin Corp.’s factory has consistently been the largest mercury emitter in the entire state of Tennessee. The factory, which produces chlorine and caustic soda, discharges mercury directly to the Hiwassee River and is likely the primary cause of the fish consumption advisory on that portion of the river.

Oceana has been working since 2005 to convince mercury-based chlorine plants to convert to cleaner technology. Since then, two factories have closed and three others are in the process of converting or have converted to mercury-free technology. With Olin’s announcement, there are now only two remaining plants using mercury – Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio and PPG Industries in Natrium, West Virginia.

Mercury released to the environment from these plants ends up in our waterways and ultimately the oceans, where it builds up in fish and other wildlife. Through a process called bioaccumulation, animals higher on the food chain — such as tuna and swordfish — carry the most mercury.

People exposed to high levels of mercury in fish can experience health effects, such as delayed neurological development in children. Both the Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have advised women of childbearing age and children not to eat certain types of fish due to high levels of mercury. Consumer Reports recently tested samples of canned tuna and concluded that pregnant women should avoid eating all tuna as a precaution.

Oceana has also been working to pass legislation (the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act) that would phase-out the 19th century process in favor of mercury-free technology. In the past, Olin representatives had called the bill unrealistic because it would have required them to make the switch by 2015. With today’s announcement, it’s clear that the timeframe was completely reasonable.

Olin President and Chief Executive Officer Joseph D. Rupp said in a press release, “The new Charleston plant will employ the most modern membrane technology, have lower operating costs, and will produce higher quality products.”

Thanks to everyone who helped along the way to make this happen!