ORRINGTON – A group opposing the shipment of mercury from the United States to India announced Wednesday that citizen groups in that country along with American environmental organizations are protesting HoltraChem Manufacturing Co.’s sale of the toxic metal.
Forty tons of mercury from the closed chemical plant already have been shipped to a licensed broker in Albany, N.Y., according to plant manager Dave Baillargeon. Eventually, the mercury is expected to be transported to India, he said.
The Penobscot Alliance for Mercury Elimination announced in a press release Wednesday that “U.S. and India-based activist groups have joined hands to prevent the export of a 130-ton stockpile of used and toxic mercury from the U.S. to an undisclosed destination in India.” Mercury from HoltraChem is believed to be part of that stockpile.
Greenpeace, Toxics Link and Basel Action Network were listed as groups joining the Penobscot Alliance along with the Maine People’s Alliance and Natural Resources Council of Maine in the protest.
“This import can pre-empt fledgling attempts by Indian groups to frame rules to handle existing mercury contamination and to find alternatives to mercury,” said Basel Action Network spokesperson Ravi Agarwalin in New Delhi.
According to the press release, these groups have highlighted numerous instances of toxic trade, hazardous waste dumping and the export of obsolete products or technologies by industrialized companies into India.
While the exact destination of the stockpiled mercury is unknown, one of the world’s largest manufacturers of mercury-containing thermometers is in India, according to Michael Belliveau, toxics project director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
Baillargeon said Wednesday that protests so far have been ineffective in keeping mercury from leaving the closed chemical plant. He anticipated that within the next two weeks an additional 15 tons to 18 tons of mercury would be removed from the Orrington plant.
“I haven’t seen where the protests have deterred the process,” he said. “Mercury is a marketable commodity and we are well within our legal rights to move it. I see the protests more as an expression of opinion by very concerned individuals.”
The HoltraChem plant ceased operations in September and moved into a shutdown phase last month after efforts to find a buyer fell through. The plant had seven chemical spills in 13 months in 1997 and 199 8. That, along with concerns over removing an estimated 260,000 pounds of mercury from the plant, sparked protests from environmental groups.
The most recent protest was on Dec. 9, when about 70 people protested mercury leaving HoltraChem and being shipped to India. For 30 years, the plant used mercury to turn salt water into chlorine and caustic soda, used mostly by paper companies.
The press release stated that Greenpeace, Basel Action Network, Toxics Link and other groups have expressed concern about the export of mercury to India with the U.S. Embassy and government officials there. They also have alerted the trade unions, including dock workers in both countries.