By Ben Reuter
A chemical plant in Natrium, West Virginia has been under the eye of the EPA for years due to mercury contamination of the area around the plant. The plant was built in 1943 for the production of chemicals used for a wide range of purposes.
The plant sits on the banks of the Ohio River upstream of Maryland, which took legal action in 2009 to greatly reduce the amount of pollution. The chemicals produced at this facility are part of the chlor-alkali method of creating chemicals such as chlorine and sodium hydroxide. These are some of the most fundamental chemicals used in many different types of manufacturing to produce thousands of common household products.
The plant first had problems with its pollution while under the control of PPG. At the time, PPG owned this facility and four others that were running on outdated technology that used massive amounts of mercury which ended up being a byproduct at the end of the production line. The outdated technology contaminated ground water and soil with massive amounts of mercury and other pollutants. Much of the life within the river near the plant is now deemed hazardous because of large amounts of mercury. Fishermen are told that all fish taken out of the Ohio River in the region are likely to be contaminated and are warned not to consume the meat.
Currently, the plant is under tight supervision of the EPA and Maryland has threatened major fines if pollution isn’t cut, which is pressing plant owners to put in new, cleaner technology that does not use mercury as well as safer and more reliable waste management systems to remove hazardous waste from entering the already contaminated river.
The plant was recently sold by PPG in its PPG Industries’ sale of its $2.5 billion commodity chemicals business to Georgia Gulf. The combination of the former PPG unit and Georgia Gulf has been renamed Axiall Corp, but the problems with groundwater contamination are still prevalent.
In 1983, Paul J. Kienholz, PPG Industries' chlor-alkali business manager, said "With the tremendous strides made lately, it is becoming difficult to imagine the construction of any new plants utilizing technologies other than the new membrane cell designs…We will be able to take good advantage of membrane cells in their present state of development.” More than 20 years later, PPG continues to use outdated mercury-cell technology. It is time for a major change to happen now.
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