Friday, July 20, 2007

Chlor-Alkali Plants Literally Have No Excuse, They Simply Want To Pollute

The efforts of Oceana have been discussed by Hg-ATME in the past. This group, in the name of clean oceans, has taken on the Chlor-Alkali industry for years. Their successes are numerous and their efforts should be applauded. My way of applauding is to continue focusing on issues they raise for the cause.

This week Oceana has come out with a small list of big polluters. (Their full report is here.) They make the case that these plants simply must change their ways or admit they are trying to pollute the earth moreso than make profit.

I picked up on this from Associated Content and have some excerpts below. The full AC article can be read here.

Oceana's analysis of the use of mercury in chlorine plants is compelling. By switching to mercury-free technology--a method already utilized to produce 90 percent of the chlorine in the United States-the chlorine plants in question would not only increase energy efficiency but also would increase capacity, sales and ultimately profits. However, the five U.S. facilities-dubbed The Filthy Five by the report--remain wedded to 110-year-old technology of using mercy in chlorine production, releasing on average, four times more mercury per each of their five plants than the average power plant using mercury-free technology.

Jackie Savitz, Director of Oceana's Campaign to Stop Seafood Contamination explains. "The chlorine industry's dirty little secret is that five U.S. plants are releasing thousands of pounds of mercury into the environment each year. Their refusal to switch to mercury-free technology -- a cost-effective solution adopted by the majority of plants around the world -- is an outrage that should concern citizens and shareholders alike." The five U.S. chlorine plants that refuse to switch to the mercury-free technology are: Ashta Chemicals in Ashtabula, Ohio; Olin Corporation's two plants in Charleston, Tenn., and Augusta, Ga.; PPG Industries in Natrium, W.Va.; and ERCO Worldwide in Port Edwards, Wis.

Seriously, just STOP.

Wisconsin Moves Closer to Strict Mercury Controls

As Hg-ATME discussed earlier, Wisconsin has been investigating the right course of action the State should take in dealing with mercury emissions from coal burning power plants. Now, the DNR and State regulators will be deciding what to recommend. An excerpt from The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel follows;

At issue are regulations that have moved sporadically for several years and were first pushed by conservation groups concerned about the link between smokestack emissions and mercury found in fish.

If approved when they come before the Natural Resources Board in the fall, the regulations would restrict mercury emissions from coal-fired power plants 90% by 2020
O. Russell Bullock Jr., a meteorologist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, said Wisconsin power plants contribute 10% to 20% of mercury deposition in the state - and perhaps 30% near power plants.

"On a statewide level, I would say Wisconsin is a state where global factors are more important," Bullock said.

Even if what Mr. Bullock says is true, and I have some doubts, I can say unequivocally that 100% of the mercury Wisconsin power plants emit, falls somewhere.

"When we set the bar, we need to consider the fact that the mercury we produce comes down somewhere," said Eric Uram, an environmentalist active on mercury matters.

"Then we can say, 'We have done as much as we can here to solve the problem. We know it's coming from you. It's time for you to step up to the plate.' "

The full Journal Sentinel article can be read here.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Nations Waterways Focus of Mercury Emissions Attention

Hg-ATME tries to stick mainly to smokestack mercury emissions issues in this blog but recent concerns over some of the nations most prominent bodies of water and their own battles with mercury is worthy of note.

A recent Indiana Dept of Environmental Management permit for BP's Whiting, IN refinery would allow massive increases in ammonia and toxic sludge releases directly into Lake Michigan. What are they thinking. I read in one article the plant expansion would create 80 full time jobs. Now I'm all for creating jobs but to allow huge increases in refinery emissions into the lake for a measly 80 jobs, not even 800 would justify that.

Our Senator, here in Illinois, Dick Durbin, will not let this go unchallenged. From an excerpt in All American Patriots we see this;

U.S. Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) today sent a letter to Benjamin Grumbles, Assistant Administrator for the Office of Water at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to express his strong opposition to a permit that will allow BP’s Whiting refinery in Indiana to discharge more pollution into Lake Michigan. The National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit, recently approved by the Indiana Department of Environmental Management (IDEM), will allow BP to increase ammonia and sludge pollution discharges into Lake Michigan by 50 percent and 35 percent respectively.

In today’s letter Durbin said, “Lake Michigan is one of our nation’s greatest natural resources and serves as the drinking water supply for over 40 million people – including the entire Chicago metropolitan area, supports a significant commercial fishing industry, and supports numerous recreational activities… It is our responsibility to support efforts to restore, rather than further degrade Lake Michigan. We should be working toward the goal of eliminating pollution in this fresh water ecosystem.”

The permit runs counter to the Clean Water Act and the State of Indiana’s anti-degradation policy. A specific provision in the federal Clean Water Act prohibits any downgrade in water quality near a pollution source even if discharge limits are met.

You can read full contents of his and IL Congressman Rahm Emanuel's letters here too.

And then a decades long battle over mercury and other toxic pollution in the San Francisco Bay is being addressed with some new standards that are long overdue. It was always a battle over who was responsible. No one disputed that the problem existed they always wanted to know who to blame. Well now we will know who not to blame for future contributions as the standards kick in and limit future releases. This excerpt from KGO-TV/DT;

For decades, there have been concerns about mercury pollution in San Francisco Bay. Environmentalists have fought for changes to protect our water and our health, and today, state officials approved a plan to try to reduce mercury levels.
For years environmentalists have been pushing the state to adopt a process to identify the sources of mercury and set goals for reducing the pollution.

Today the California Water Resources Board listed the old gold mines as the number one source, but Baykeeper says a contemporary culprit are refineries.

Deb Self: "It probably is coming from the smokestacks and we're urging the state to require the refineries to do the studies to show where the mercury is going. It may be the most important pollutant source."

I guess one cannot totally disassociate mercury stack emissions from Clean Water issues, they are really tied together. Sort of a cause (stacks) and effect (polluted water) situation when it comes to mercury.

Minnesota To Hold Stakeholder Meetings to Discuss Statewide Mercury Emission Reductions

Stakeholders from around the State will be invited to attend meetings to discuss how to achieve the Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load or TMDL. An excerpt from the International Falls Daily Journal follows;

The first of a series of meetings in which stakeholders will identify ways that mercury air emissions and releases to Minnesota lakes and streams could be reduced to acceptable levels is under way at the Minnesota History Center. Attendees are members of a 16-person strategy work group representing environmental, sports fishing and business interests; the electrical and taconite industries; and local, state and tribal governments.

The Mercury Total Maximum Daily Load stakeholder process will eventually produce recommendations for the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency to consider for an implementation plan. The plan will enable Minnesota to meet the goals of the MPCA?s Mercury TMDL study, which the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency approved in March.

"Reducing annual in-state mercury emissions by about 2,600 pounds from current levels is definitely a challenge," MPCA Assistant Commissioner David Thornton said.

Thornton said the stakeholder process will not consider changes to the goals set in the mercury TMDL study. "Our charge," he said, "is to determine how and by when the goals of the TMDL can be achieved."

It is a formidable challenge and Hg-ATME wishes them success. It looks as though the meetings may be open to the public but that participation may be limited to members of the working group that represents major blocks of constituents. But who knows, when a meeting on mercury emissions is touted as a stakeholder meeting, it is hard to conceive they would exclude public comment. They probably just want to get something accomplished rather than argue with John Q. :-) I would suggest John Q take his/her concerns to the members before the meetings next year.

Friday, July 13, 2007

The Great Lakes Face a Challenge, Canada and USA, Enough Blame To Go Around

A recent study titled "Up to the Gills: Pollution in Great Lakes Fish" shows that many of the smaller varieties of fish are now demonstrating higher levels of mercury contamination that used to be found only in larger, older fish. The fact that the Great Lakes are experiencing this increased stress from industrial mercury emissions is alarming but not surprising. Anyone who has been following this issue sees the trends nationally and internationally.

What bothered me was the finger pointing in the articles I read that was blaming Canada for not doing enough. From the editorial page of The Record this,

It is not enough to blame Great Lakes pollution problems on the United States. On a per-facility basis, Canadian factories around the Great Lakes emit 93 per cent more pollution than their U.S. counterparts.

Between 1998 and 2002, air pollution from Canadian industries in the Great Lakes basin increased by three per cent, while U.S. facilities decreased their pollution by 24 per cent.

In 2004, President George W. Bush pulled together regional, state and federal agency officials, together with top members of his cabinet, to address health and environmental concerns in the Great Lakes. Major funding for cleanup efforts has followed and a bipartisan bill in Congress would earmark $20 billion for additional measures.

Canada has done almost nothing to match this effort, with the result that, for the first time, the United States is poised to move unilaterally on Great Lakes management.

That is from an editorial by Aaron Freeman the policy director for Environmental Defence, the same group that did the study. Now, I don't doubt the data showing the increased levels of mercury and other toxics, what I have a problem with is holding the Bush administration up as some benchmark environmental advocacy group. They have done little, in my mind, to earn that praise. Everyone, Canada and the US can do a lot better job of caring for one of the greatest fresh water resources in the world.

Friday, July 6, 2007

Decades Later the Minamata Disaster Is Still in the News

Decades after the dumping of tons of mercury into Minamata Bay in Japan the patients suffering from Minamata disease are still trying for retribution. I know that none of the mercury emission issues we face in the US are anywhere near the horrendous levels of mercury that caused this disaster in Japan, but it was this disaster that led to the movement to study the effects of mercury on humans and their fetuses.

Minimata should always stay as a reminder of what can happen when toxic emissions go totally unchecked. An excerpt from The Japan Times,

The ruling Liberal Democratic Party and coalition partner New Komeito have compiled an outline for a fresh rescue package for Minamata disease patients who have gone officially unrecognized, featuring payment of a lump sum, coalition sources said Tuesday.

While the efforts of the LDP are applauded in one sense they are also criticized in another. The fact that there was a settlement in 1995 that has proven to be insufficient has complicated the issue today since the new settlements cannot approach the old ones. A very touching editorial from details the dilemma. An excerpt follows,

In effect, the relief measures took a step forward in one sense but took a step back in another.

In the political settlement reached by ruling parties in 1995, about 12,000 uncertified patients received lump-sum payments. It was an ambiguous settlement that did not use government standards for certification or clearly position the patients as "victims."

In 2004, the Supreme Court said the government should expand its standards for certification to extend relief measures for a larger number of victims. The decision prompted more people to come forward as patients. Under two sets of standards established by the government and the court, work to recognize victims tended to fall behind in prefectures. That is why the coalition group decided once again to try to settle the issue.

I suggest reading the full editorial if you are interested in how this settlement is being handled. Again this is a reminder and a difficult one at that of what we should globally avoid at all costs. It is one of those "pay me now, or pay me later" kinda things.

Georgia - Cause & Effect?

Shortly after the Georgia Department of Natural Resources approved the tougher mercury laws for the State, Georgia Power files for a rate increase.

An excerpt from the Rome News Tribune,

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources board this morning approved new restrictions on mercury emissions that also set deadlines for the installation of pollution controls at Georgia Power’s coal-fired plants.

Georgia’s mercury-emission standards are now tougher than those set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. But environmental groups have argued it’s not enough.

Then not only two days later Georgia Power is asking for a rate increase. The two are related but I am certain there are more things involved. An excerpt from the Atlanta Journal Constitution,

Two years after its last rate increase — and four months after the latest in a string of fuel charge increases — Georgia Power is expected to ask state regulators for more money today.

The company isn't saying how much of an increase it will request: Federal law prohibits it from discussing that amount until after it has filed a notice with the Securities and Exchange Commission. [...]

The company has a long list of expensive environmental cleanup projects either under way or about to be at its fleet of coal-fired power plants, which will help it satisfy mercury emissions rules approved by the state Environmental Protection Division Wednesday.

Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami Site Recent Increases in Mercury and Other Toxics

Just since 2005 the Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami are seeing increases in the levels of mercury and other toxics on the land and in the waters of the Fort Williams First Nation. Citing Environment Canada's National Pollutant Release Inventory the AGG would like to see some activity to reduce these levels. From the Thunder Bay Source;

Damien Lee, executive director of the AGG says cancer-causing substances such as dioxin and mercury are what the group is most concerned about and dozens of substances are released from more than 15 active industrial operations within two kilometres of where First Nation citizens live. [...]

Lee says Environment Canada's facility and substance information is hard to find and the web site is not user friendly and he intends to put all of the data on the AGG web site.

This is a bit off my beaten track but I wanted to address the concerns of the Anishinabek of the Gitchi Gami.