Federal judge rules corporate polluter must clean up mercury in Penobscot

Federal judge rules corporate polluter must clean up mercury in Penobscot

In a legal victory for the Maine People’s Alliance and the National Resources Defense Council, a federal judge on Wednesday held the former owner of a chlorine bleach plant in Orrington, Mallinckrodt US LLC, accountable for tons of mercury dumped into the Penobscot River. The judge ordered Mallinckrodt to remedy the toxic contamination, beginning with an independent engineering assessment of cleanup options paid for by the corporate polluter.

“After 40 years, Mallinckrodt finally has to clean up the mess they made,” said Nancy Marks, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council. “The Penobscot River is getting a second chance. This is a relief for the people who eat its lobster, work its waters, treasure its wildlife, and live along its banks. It is justice for the Maine communities who suffered for too long at the hands of this powerful corporation. The court was clear: the contamination is severe and it is threatening people’s health. The mercury has got to go.”

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin, especially toxic to children and pregnant women. A single teaspoon can contaminate a railroad car full of fish. From roughly 1967 to 2000, the HoltraChem plant dumped six to 12 metric tons of of the bio-accumulative toxin into the Penobscot.

Last year, the State of Maine halted lobster and crab harvesting in a seven-square-mile area at the mouth of the river due to high levels of mercury contamination found during a study mandated during a previous phase of the trial.

“For too long, this pollution has put people’s health, jobs, and wildlife at risk,” said Jesse Graham, Executive Director of the Maine People’s Alliance. “Our communities have suffered for 40 years while a powerful corporation profited at our expense. It’s long past time for Mallinckrodt to make it right. That means finally removing the mercury contamination so people can go back to fishing, eating lobster, and enjoy the iconic Penobscot river without hesitation.”

The Maine People’s Alliance has been working to halt and clean up pollution at the HoltraChem plant site and in the river and to hold corporate polluter Mallinckrodt accountable for almost 30 years. The current lawsuit has been before the courts since 2000. Mallinckrodt has fought and appealed at every step of the process. This decision, while an important milestone, doesn’t yet mark the end of that fight.

Photo: MPA Executive Director Jesse Graham and NRDC Executive Director Peter Lehner speak at a press conference outside the Federal Courthouse in Bangor before closing arguments in June, 2015.

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