Dangerous Mercury Polluting Shenandoah River

Environmental Groups Plan to Sue DuPont to Force Cleanup

RICHMOND, Virginia (October 20, 2003) -- Two environmental groups will sue DuPont to force a cleanup of mercury from the South River and the South Fork of the Shenandoah River because of health risks for people who eat fish from those waters.

NRDC (the Natural Resources Defense Council) and the Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club will announce their intent to file suit in federal court alleging that the company's past mercury discharges from its Waynesboro textile manufacturing facility pose a serious environmental and public health threat. The Southern Environmental Law Center will be assisting in the case.

"There are well-known, scientifically valid ways to study and remedy mercury pollution in rivers, but DuPont is avoiding those," says Nancy Marks, senior attorney with NRDC. "Instead of solving the problem, the DuPont funded team is just generating lots of reports, not one of which is aimed toward a cleanup."

Mercury pollution is known to cause severe physiological, behavioral, and reproductive disorders and is particularly harmful to developing fetuses. The main route of human exposure is through eating contaminated fish.

DuPont's textile operations discharged tens of thousands of pounds of mercury into the South River from 1929 to 1950. When the contamination was disclosed in 1977, the state was forced to declare a fish consumption health advisory for over 100 miles downriver of the plant. That advisory continues today.

"For decades, DuPont has managed to dodge responsibility for dumping mercury into these waters. That means the health of the people in the Shenandoah Valley is at risk, and a Virginia treasure -- part of our children's heritage -- is being diminished," said Michael Town, director of the Sierra Club's Virginia Chapter.

Over 20 years ago, DuPont and its consultants convinced government regulators that the mercury contamination would disappear on its own. That has not occurred according to the most recent data collected by the Commonwealth. Some fish in the two rivers currently have mercury levels more than eight times the level at which the state issues health advisories. Recent heavy flooding in the Shenandoah Valley from Hurricane Isabel heightens the groups' concerns of contamination, since much of the mercury from the plant is thought to remain in floodplain sediments, which are disturbed during high river flows.

Rather than take what the plaintiffs see as effective enforcement action to make DuPont clean up, state and federal regulators have joined DuPont in a collaborative South River Science Team to examine various aspects of the mercury contamination as part of a 100-year monitoring plan. The team has no cleanup plans.

Under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the federal statute under which the two groups are planning to bring suit, a notice of intent must be served 90 days in advance of filing a lawsuit. Today's announcement marks that notice.

The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 550,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The Sierra Club, founded over a century ago, is a national non-profit organization of over 700,000 members dedicated to exploring, enjoying, and protecting the wild places of the earth; to practicing and promoting the responsible use of the earth's ecosystems and resources; to educating and enlisting humanity to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment; and to using all lawful means to carry out these objectives. The Virginia Chapter of the Sierra Club has over 16,000 members. Its website can be found at www.sierraclub.org.