Federal Judge Seeks More Studies on How to Deal With Mercury Pollution

March 13, 2008

A federal judge called for more studies on how best to deal with mercury pollution in the lower Penobscot River caused by the former HoltraChem chemical manufacturing plant in Orrington, Maine.

In a ruling, Senior U.S. District Judge Gene Carter concurred with a 117-page report filed in January that concluded mercury downriver from the plant site poses substantial risks to people and wildlife.

Carter also directed a court-appointed research team to conduct additional studies to determine if it’s better to attempt to remove the mercury or to leave it alone and let nature take its course.

The chemical plant was last owned by HoltraChem, which ran it from 1993 until the company went out of business in 2000. Mallinckrodt Inc., based in St. Louis, owned the facility from 1967 to 1982, has been held liable for the pollution because it is the only former owner still in business.

Carter’s decision is the latest in a string of recent legal defeats for Mallinckrodt, which sought in court filings to delay beginning the next phase of the study.

Mallinckrodt officials said the company already spent more than $30 million to clean up the site and worked cooperatively with state and federal environmental agencies on that ongoing project.

In his latest ruling, Carter wrote that the main thrust of the next phase of the cleanup should determine whether it is “necessary and feasible” to clean up the mercury — which would likely carry a huge cost — rather than allow the river to naturally flush the contaminants over time.

The area of the river to be studied stretches from below the Veazie dam to Fort Point Light just south of Stockton Springs.

Source: Bangor Daily News.

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