Judge Approves Multi-Million Dollar Clean-Up for Penobscot River

The Two-Decade Long Legal Battle Over Mercury Pollution Comes to an End

BANGOR, ME  — Today, a Federal District Court in Maine approved a settlement that requires Mallinckrodt US LLC to pay for mercury remediation in the Penobscot River Estuary, concluding a more than two decade long legal fight led by Maine People’s Alliance and NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The settlement provides that Mallinckrodt will pay at least $187 million, and up to $267 million, to independent trusts that will fund and implement remediation and restoration of the river and its surrounding communities.

“For decades, our communities suffered while nothing was done to clean up extensive mercury contamination in the Penobscot River,” said Jesse Graham, Co-Director of Maine People’s Alliance. “It’s long past time for Mallinckrodt to make it right, and this ruling will go a long way toward restoring the Penobscot, so people can go back to fishing, eating lobster, and enjoying this river that is so fundamental to the lives of people who live in this part of Maine.”

From roughly 1967 to 2000, a chemical plant in Orrington — which made chlorine bleach for the state’s paper mills — released six to twelve metric tons of mercury into the Penobscot River. Mercury is a neurotoxin and therefore exposure to the chemical can have a wide array of negative health impacts. In 2000, NRDC and the Maine People’s Alliance sued Mallinckrodt US LLC, a former owner and operator of the plant, to seek a cleanup of the mercury in the river.

"Today’s ruling brings a decades-long battle over mercury pollution to an end and moves us closer to a clean and healthy Penobscot River for Maine’s people and wildlife,” said Mitch Bernard, Chief Counsel for NRDC. “Mallinckrodt caused this pollution, and now they’re finally taking responsibility for helping the River recover.”

The river and estuary currently contain elevated mercury levels, putting wildlife, as well as humans who eat seafood and waterfowl at risk. Several species, including lobsters, black ducks, eels, and marsh songbirds were found to have high mercury levels. Because of this, Maine issued a consumption advisory for waterfowl along the lower Penobscot and closed a portion of the lobster and crab fishery at the mouth of the river.

The endorsed consent decree is here.

With more than 32,000 members, MPA is the largest community organization in Maine, and one of the largest in the country. We work together on issues that include but are not limited to climate change, toxics use reduction, health care access, affordable housing, racial justice, and immigrant rights.

NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, Bozeman, MT, and Beijing. Visit us at www.nrdc.org and follow us on Twitter @NRDC.

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