Green Living: Green Living Guides

Getting Mercury Out of Paper Production
The paper industry has an important role to play in reducing toxic mercury pollution.

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Use your wallet to change industry's bad practices.

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The Paper Business, Present and Future

Mercury is a potent neurotoxin that, like lead, threatens the brains and nervous systems of fetuses and young children. It is emitted into the air but travels quickly into the aquatic food chain through bioaccumulation (for more details on the health risks of mercury, see NRDC's Mercury Contamination in Fish). Some older chemical plants use an outdated process involving mercury to make caustic soda, or lye. These plants "lose" dozens of tons of mercury each year, making them a significant source of mercury pollution in the United States.

The pulp and paper industry is the single largest consumer of caustic soda worldwide, and paper suppliers and manufacturers thus have a large role to play in the marketplace to reduce mercury pollution problems from these sources. Alternative, cost-competitive chlorine and caustic soda production technologies abound. In fact, non-mercury chlorine and caustic soda production technologies dominate in the U.S. market. Nonetheless, 7 of the 39 chlor-alkali plants in the United States continue to use mercury in their manufacturing.

Specifying that the caustic soda used or sourced by your company (or the caustic soda used by your pulp suppliers) be manufactured at mercury-free locations would alleviate many concerns about mercury pollution linked to the products you sell. It would also demonstrate a sincere commitment on the part of your company to protect the health of its customers and the general public.

In view of the known hazards of mercury exposure and the predominance of non-mercury-based caustic soda manufacturing in the United States, we ask that you review your supplier list to evaluate if any of your caustic soda or pulp suppliers use mercury in their manufacturing processes. Below is a list of the seven mercury-based chlor-alkali plants. If you or any of your pulp suppliers are purchasing caustic soda from any of these plants, we respectfully request that you insist that these plants upgrade to non-mercury manufacturing techniques, or that you voluntarily commit to purchase caustic soda and pulp only from mercury-free operations.

Currently Operating Mercury Cell Chlor-Alkali Plants

  1. ASHTA Chemicals Inc., 3509 Middle Road, Ashtabula, Ohio 44004

  2. Occidental Chemical Corp., 1000 N. Wilson Dam Road, Muscle Shoals, Alabama 35661
    (Occidental plans to phase out the use of mercury at this plant.)

  3. Olin Corp., 2402 Doug Barnard Parkway, Augusta, Georgia 30906

  4. Olin Corp., 1186 Lower River Road, Charleston, Tennessee 37310

  5. PPG Industries, State Route 2, New Martinsville, West Virginia 26155

  6. Pioneer Americas L.L.C., 4205 Highway 75, Saint Gabriel, Louisiana 70776

  7. ERCO (formerly Vulcan Materials), State Highway 73 S., Port Edwards, Wisconsin 54469
    (ERCO will phase out mercury use at Port Edwards by 2014.)

last revised 8.10.07

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