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Posts tagged ‘Oceana’



from "the Olin files"


Yesterday, something compelled me to ride along the river – the Hiwassee River, up the road from our house.  I can’t begin to count how many times I have crossed this bridge and have been reminded by the TDEC warning sign of the mercury contamination in this beautiful body of water.   Or how many times I have watched (with disbelief) the people fishing, despite the warnings.  Yesterday was no different.  It always bothers me … and I’m sure you might be tired of me posting about it by now.

Last week, I attended a public hearing at our local Chamber of Commerce regarding a $41 million bond proposal for Olin Corporation through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  My friend Suzanne Wisdom from Oceana, along with several concerned residents (including myself) made comment for the record – if Olin was to receive this funding, it should be imperative that they commit to converting their plant to mercury-free technology.


at the public hearing ... Cleveland/Bradley Industrial Development Board representative (left) and Suzanne Wisdom from Oceana (right)

The Chamber’s Industrial Development Board kindly told us that environmental issues did not factor into the issuance (or non-issuance) of this type of bond.   Of course.  But, as always, all we could continue to do was to speak out for the record.

Earlier today I received a phone-call from Suzanne … and it left me speechless.   As of mid-day today, here is an excerpt from the official Press Release from Oceana:

Olin Corporation’s Two Dinosaur Mercury Plants Will End Mercury Use and Releases

in Tennessee and Georgia

Oceana Celebrates Olin’s Response to Community and Customer Demands

The Olin Corporation announced today it will convert its mercury-based chlor-alkali manufacturing plant in Charleston, TN to modern, mercury free technology and eliminate mercury from its plant operation in Augusta, GA.   Oceana has been pushing for these actions since 2005. Olin’s plant in Tennessee is the largest remaining mercury-based chlorine plant of the four plants in the U.S. that had refused to make the switch to safer, more efficient technology.

In response, Oceana offers the following statement from Senior Campaign Director Jacqueline Savitz:

“This toxic, unnecessary practice was putting communities’ health at risk, and contaminating fish that could end up on dinner plates far from the plants themselves.   Olin’s Tennessee plant was the largest and released the most pollutants of the remaining mercury-based chlorine plants.   This shift will mean less mercury in the Hiwassee River, as well as in Charleston and the state of Tennessee,” added Savitz.

Olin’s announcement shows that even a large facility can shift to mercury-free technology in the time frame described in pending Senate legislation, which would require plants to shift  to mercury-free production by 2015. Olin will easily meet that timeframe, committing to shift to cleaner production technology by 2012 in Charleston, TN.  For that decision, we applaud them.

Finally, we are grateful that the federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) will help to make the Tennessee conversion possible.

Oceana Tennessee Field Organizer Suzanne Wisdom, who has worked long and hard to exert community pressure on Olin to switch, offers the following reaction:

“I am excited to hear that Olin’s plant will ‘Go Mercury Free,’ just as Oceana and thousands of Tennessee residents have urged them to do.  I’m especially happy for the wonderful community of people who live near the plant. They have been the heart of this campaign and I know they are celebrating today,” said Wisdom.

And from the AP/Bloomberg this afternoon: “Olin plant will eliminate mercury in $160M upgrade”.

What can I possibly say????  Cause for celebration?  Are you kidding?! ABSOLUTELY!

Most of all, I cannot begin to express my heartfelt gratitude to Suzanne Wisdom from Oceana – who has worked tirelessly for so many years on this issue … who has been an inspiration and provided much-needed encouragement and support to the concerned citizens throughout our community … and who I feel most privileged to consider my friend.  Suzanne, you are my heroine!  It’s definitely time to celebrate!!!  😀

Dear Suzanne ... thank you for opening my eyes, for putting up with my rants, and for your never-ending supply of optimism




#30daysofbiking Day23: river ride & Earth Day rant ~ Olin’s toxic fish

courtesy of Olin Chlor-Alkali, Charleston, TN - a reminder of what has NOT changed since Earth Day 1970

oblivious to the warnings, Brady, age 5: fishing for (toxic) bass with his Nana and Pa

Today is Earth Day.  Forgive me if I don’t feel like celebrating.  I might sound a little snarky, but I find too much of the current Earth Day celebrating to be nothing but a bunch of marketing hype, Earth Day-branded discounts, and various corporate greenwashing tactics – all aimed at wasteful consumerism.  “Go GREEN – buy this (useless-crap-you-don’t-need-that-will-end-up-in-the-landfill) and enter EARTH at checkout to receive your 15% Earth Day discount!” Throw in a few token speeches, a ceremonial planting of a tree, an elementary school poster contest, and you’ve got Earth Day 2010.

As the great Walter Cronkite reported on his CBS news special “Earth Day 1970’’, on April 22, 1970,  “The hoopla of (the first) Earth Day is over. The problems remain.’’

And so they do.

Today’s ride was to points along “our river” – the Hiwassee River that runs near our house.  The river that now, thanks to the wonderful folks at Olin Chlor-Alkali corporation, is so contaminated with their mercury discharge that the few remaining fish that survive outside of the “dead zones”, namely bass,  have been found to contain mercury levels 25% above EPA limits. The last documented EPA Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) indicated mercury discharge rates in tons – both airborne and “discharge to receiving streams and/or water bodies”.   The warning signs are posted at nearly every put-in and boat dock, yet I am continually stunned to see people fishing here – and keeping their catch.  Today was no exception.

Donnie and Vicky; this bass wasn't big enough to keep ... otherwise they keep and consume their catch, despite posted warnings

I stopped at the put-in closest to our house when I saw some people down fishing.  Decided to be brave and talk with them, to see if they would let me photograph them.  After their initial wariness, they were very friendly and obliging.  I asked them if they kept their catch – and they said they did.  I also asked if they were concerned at all about the posted warnings, or knew about the mercury issue.  I got an answer I had heard before, “Oh, we’ve been fishing here for a long time … ain’t never had any problems with it.”

further upriver, but just downstream from the Olin plant

further upriver

catching bass - upriver near the marina/boat ramp

catching bass - near the marina/boat dock just downstream from Olin

I stopped again near the boat ramp/marina – a location closer to the Olin plant and their discharge sites.  I’d been on the water just upstream from here near the plant (by boat) and you can visually see – in the water – a line of demarcation where there are “dead zones” from the pollutants.  Two gentlemen were out on the small dock fishing.  And catching a few bass.  I stopped and talked to them too.  They told me they kept what they caught, as well – “They’s some good eatin’!”  When I asked if they were concerned at all about the mercury discharge from Olin, one of them told me that he knew someone who worked there, and he knew it was “real bad” – but figured if the fish were out swimming, they were probably ok.

In both cases, I just didn’t know what to say?  “Are you out of your minds?!”  I couldn’t say anything, but just thanked them for letting me photograph.

Brady's dad ... taking his son out for an afternoon of (toxic) bass fishing

On my way back was probably the most disturbing encounter I had today.  It’s were I spotted the little boy, Brady (5 yrs old), out fishing with his dad near the bridge.  Again, I stopped, talked to them and asked if they would mind if I took a few pictures.  Sure, no problem.  This time, I only asked if they kept their catch.  They said yes.  It honestly nearly broke my heart.  How could they ignore the warnings? With no concern for possible cancer, reproductive, or brain development issues that can be caused by mercury consumption?  I had to leave.

I’ve had my rants about Olin in the past, and I will try not to repeat myself, but these are the facts:

  • Olin is on record, and has known of the impending need to convert their plant to mercury-free technology – yet has repeated chosen to ignore their responsibility, and they are now crying foul.  With the threat of pending legislation which would require them to convert their plant within 2 years, they are now attempting everything possible to stop passage of the bill.  And they are being facilitated by indulgent (and well-lobbied) politicians – namely Senator Bob Corker (R) and Representative Zach Wamp (R).
  • Olin has successfully converted other plants – including McIntosh, AL, Niagra Falls, NY, and St. Gabriel, LA – and yet continue their exuse-making when it comes to the Charleston, TN, plant.  Because they have been allowed to get away with it.  Because they know the political will to protect the health and well-being of the river and local citizenry doesn’t exist – it is the hallmark of every environmental disaster brought about by abusive corporations and the political power they purchase. Coupled with the recent decision by the US Supreme Court to overturn restrictions on corporate spending in elections, it can only get worse.
  • Olin bases their refusal to convert the Charleston plant on expense and jobs “lost” – which they know is complete fiction.  Over 100 other plants have demonstrated that the conversion to mercury-free technology can be completed within 18-24 months, with minimal production downtime.  The converted plants not only provide safer working environments for their employees and surrounding residents/neighborhoods, but also save energy and increase production capacity.  A similar conversion by PPG provided jobs for over 250 additional workers.  Olin, your excuses just don’t fly!

  • Olin continues to claim that conversion of the plant is “economically unfeasible” … So can they please explain to me how they can justify their recent disclosure of obscene executive pay increases?  Joseph Rupp, Chairman/President/CEO of Olin Corp. received 14% pay raise, awarding him annual salary of 5.7 million dollars. John McIntosh, President of the Chlor Alkalai received 12% pay raise, bringing his annual salary to $1.4 million.  Please explain to me how a plant conversion is “economically unfeasible” when contrasted with your executive compensation?

So, it’s Earth Day.  And Walter Cronkite was quite the visionary.  The problems remain.  The Mercury Pollution Reduction Act appears to be stalled in the federal bureaucratic black hole.  The mercury dumping continues.  A little boy is eating toxic fish.  The problems remain.

What could I say to him?

no impact experiment – day 7: giving back

sewing bags for Morsbags

sewing bags for Morsbags

Today’s Experiment challenge: “to be charitable, to act in good faith, to become one with others, give back and share some of your exuberance with others.”

I didn’t make an actual list of ways I (am)/can/should contribute to my community.  I fear it is an area I where I often fall short, although I think good intentions to make a difference are always in the back of my mind.

My dear friend, Peggy in CA, had sent me a link to an interesting website a while back – Morsbags: Sociable Guerilla Bagging.  The idea behind the grass-roots project, based in the U.K., was to form local sewing groups, or “pods” as they are called, where people get together to sew re-usable shopping bags from reclaimed fabric and subsequently distribute the finished bags to the public for free. The Morsbags project has turned into a global effort, with pods around the world, and over 52,000 bags sewn and given away.  From the founder of Morsbags:

I created Morsbags because i live on a canal and endless plastic bags float by like urban jellyfish.  I grew up on the coast in Devon where the beaches were, and still are, strewn with plastic bags.  Whenever I am in a supermarket, I am boggled by the staggering amount of plastic bags being freely offered to shoppers who habitually forget that they are not the only option.

I have officially registered a local pod with Morsbags, the shebicycles pod in Cleveland/Bradley County, TN, and have begun sewing bags.  Next step is to try to recruit some other local folks to join in … this part I am still working on.  After this week, and participating in the Experiment, I think I have a little more motivation to get this thing rolling, and start trying to recruit a few others to join.  (If you’re reading this and are interested, just contact me … heh heh ;-).

olinAs for other local activism projects, I am still trying to stay involved in the battle against Olin, and advocating for the passage of legislation that will ban their destructive mercury-based manufacturing.  I’ve posted about this before (see battling Olin, July 15), and the recent good news is that as of Oct. 21, members of the U.S. House Energy and Commerce Committee voted 29-14 to pass H.R. 2190 out of committee, which would require chlor-alkali plants to end their use of mercury-based technology in chlorine and caustic soda production.

When it is passed (not “if”) this bill will affect our local Olin plant, and the bill states that this plant, and any remaining plants still using mercury, must inform the EPA administrator by 2012 whether the plant will close or convert.  My Oceana friend, Suzanne, will be taping a segment on our local NPR station (WTCI) this coming week, explaining the mercury issue and the legislation at hand – I can’t wait to hear her!

I don’t know what stipulations are included or will be made to effect any type of clean-up of the mercury-laden river sediment, but at least the dumping will come to an end.  We’re all feeling more hopeful these days.

The Experiment encourages us to “Practice what you preach.  Give.  Do.  Help.  Change.  In other words, sign up today to volunteer for a local environmental cause.” And what would I most like to do from an advocacy standpoint?  Yes – bikes.  Over and over, I keep coming back to the same place in my mind … I would love to start/be involved in an advocacy group to promote bicycle commuting, to improve local cycling (and pedestrian) infrastructure, and aid in education/driver awareness.  My local bike shop guy, Charles at Trailhead, has helped form a new non-profit group called BeCog (Bicycling Enthusiasts of Cleveland & Ocoee Group).  While I think their initial goals involve staging “events”, I am hoping that we can include bicycle commuting/advocacy into the group.  We’ll see.

I need to just need to find the energy to push past my hesitation to get started.  I guess my mantra needs to come from the words in the Experment: Practice what you preach. Do.  Help.  Change.

battling Olin

despite this obscurely placed warning, people still fish & consume, and birds can't read the sign

despite this obscurely placed warning, people still fish & consume, and birds can't read the sign

This past Sunday, Mark, Mason, Dillon and I took a ride, crossing over our Hiwassee river bridge once again.  I stopped to take a photo of this warning.  The small sign, which is obscurely placed at the opposite end of the bridge where the put-in and parking areas are, is barely noticeable.  As I said in the previous post, people are continually fishing the quiet waters near the bridge and many fish directly from the bridge.

The small obscure sign, and guy fishing from bridge in the distance.

The small obscure sign, and guy fishing from bridge in the distance.

While we were stopped, we couldn’t help but notice the guy parked and fishing from the bridge and wondering if he had any idea of the toxicity of what he might be catching?

The campaign against the four remaining out-dated chlorine plants  in the country (our Olin is one of them) has been spearheaded by the dedicated and knowledgeable people at Oceana.  The boys and I have been active in several of their community meetings and events directed at Olin and have gotten to know our local Oceana staff member, Suzanne Wisdom.

Earlier this week, I received an email from Suzanne saying that they were planning to deliver a boxful of signed petition cards to Olin headquarters here in Cleveland, accompanied by the Oceana dolphin mascot.  We were invited to join the event.

Earlier this afternoon, a group of concerned local residents joined Suzanne and the Oceana dolphin in the parking lot of the Olin offices.  We quietly and peacefully gathered, holding several signs and a banner, and Suzanne and the dolphin delivered the petition cards.  Since no Olin representative was willing to even come to the lobby to receive the cards or talk to anyone, Suzanne was forced to leave the box with a receptionist.  Oh well, par for the course.

Suzanne Wisdom (Oceana) and the Oceana dolphin deliver the petition cards to the Olin offices.

Suzanne Wisdom (Oceana) and the Oceana dolphin deliver the petition cards to the Olin offices.

Local citizens demanding mercury-free technology from Olin

Local citizens demanding mercury-free technology from local Olin plant

Suzanne gave me a copy of Oceana’s recent Press Release regarding the introduction of the Senate Bill to eliminate mercury from Chlorine Production within two years.  Here are a few important excerpts:

WASHINGTON, July 9, 2009 – Oceana applauds Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI) for introducing the Mercury Pollution Reduction Act of 2009 (S.1428) in the U.S. Senatet today.  The bill, co-sponsored by Senators Benjamin Cardin (D-MD), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), would phase-out the use of mercury technology in domestic chlorine production within two years. Specifically, it would require four renegade chlorine plants in the U.S. to transition to mercury free technology

While 95 percent of chlorine produced in the United States uses a mercury-free process, four U.S. plants have continued to use outdated, mercury-dependent technology to produce chlorine and caustic soda.  Meanwhile, technology that can eliminate the use of mercury in chlorine and caustic soda production has been available for decades.

These chlorine factories release more mercury than the average coal-fired plant, making them top polluters in their states.  A chlor-alkali production facility in Tennessee has historically been the number one source of mercury in the state, and the plant has impaired the river on which it’s located, according to local environmental officials.

Finally, I am sorry but not surprised to report that Olin has apparently contacted Tennessee Senator Lamar Alexander (R), requesting/pressuring him to introduce a new bill that would allow the existing outdated chlorine plants an additional twenty years to come into compliance with mercury-free production.  Senator Alexander, with his less-than-stellar environmental voting record still often touts himself as being Mr. Anti-Mercury … so we’ll see how this play out.  In the meantime, I can only hope that the current Bill S. 1428 will pass by the fall of 2009, and maybe then we can halt this nonsense within two years.  The lingering damage to the river ecosystem and the river sediment is another matter…

More on Oceana and their Mercury-free campaign can be found here.