BANGOR, Maine (September 2, 2015) – A Maine court today held the former owners of a chlorine bleach plant accountable for tons of mercury it dumped into the Penobscot River over the course of four decades. The judge ordered the polluter to remedy their mess in order to reduce contamination in wildlife and seafood.
The judge ruled in favor of the Natural Resources Defense Council and Maine’s People Alliance, in a case the parties brought against Mallinckrodt US LLC. He found that the pollution has caused irreparable harm to the environment. To remedy the problem, he ordered a full-scale search for a viable cleanup, which Mallinckrodt will have to bankroll.
Statements follow from the Natural Resources Defense Council and Maine People’s Alliance:
“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.”
“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.”
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, a chemical plant in Orrington—which made chlorine bleach for the state’s paper mills—dumped six to 12 metric tons of mercury into the Penobscot River. An earlier court ruling in the case found Mallinckrodt US LLC liable for the pollution.
The Penobscot River is New England’s largest estuary and a main tributary to Penobscot Bay, a major source of fish and shellfish for millions of people around the country. A court-ordered study found several species of fish and shellfish there—including lobsters—have mercury concentrations that exceed safe thresholds, and people who eat it may be at risk of serious harm. In fact, 90 percent of lobsters in one reach of the river exceeded the safety threshold, and scientists report contamination may be spreading toward the heart of the fishery.
As a result, the state halted lobster and crab harvesting early last year in a seven-square-mile area.