On Your Side: Mercury Matters

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News 12 at 6, July 18, 2007

Augusta -- An environmental group is calling for big changes at an Augusta Chemical Plant, the group claims is putting too much mercury into the Savannah River.

The environmental group is called Oceana and it claims the Olin Plant in Augusta is causing vast damage to the environment with its mercury emissions.

However, Olin says it already has made big changes to protect the environment and is operating well within government guidelines.

The Savannah River is one of Augusta's greatest assets, but one environmental group says it is in great danger.

The group is called Oceana and it is pointing the finger of blame directly at the mercury emissions at Olin Chemical Plant on Doug Barnard Parkway.

Oceana held a press conference Wednesday announcing a new report that is pushing for Olin to convert the plant to mercury free technology; something the group says Olin has done with other plants in the past.

"It's been done before. It's been done a lot of times before and they know how the process works," Oceana's Jon Pezold said.

Mercury has long been known as a dangerous substance. Not only can it damage waterways, but it could be a danger to you by causing brain damage, mental retardation and strokes.

The Savannah River Keeper has done mercury level tests on the river before and found some interesting results. "What we found upstream from Olin was about 24 parts per billion, which is normal. Downstream we found 47 parts per billion, which is almost double. In the Olin channel, we found 60,000 parts per billion," Savannah River Keeper Frank Carl said.

That's 2,500 times more mercury in the channel right by Olin.

But an Olin spokesperson says the company has been working hard on this problem already.

The company says it has spent nearly $50 million in the past eight years on reducing mercury emissions and has seen a big drop in the past year.

"This year, we're seeing a 50% reduction of emissions compared to a year ago," said Olin's Director of Technology Lenny Scott.

This has long been a source of contention in town and will probably stay that way because Olin says it won't go mercury-free despite what Oceana's report says.

Oceana claims Olin can convert its plant to mercury free technology for about $90 million dollars.

That sounds like a lot, but the group says Olin can make that cost up in about five years by being more energy efficient and having a big increase in capacity.

Either way, it doesn't sound like Olin will be doing that anytime soon.

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