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Published: Thursday, 1/27/2005

Chlorine makers' mercury output criticized

BY TOM HENRY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Chlorine manufacturers that still use a 19th-century technology have been largely overlooked in the national debate over whether the Bush administration has become aggressive enough in combating mercury emissions, an international group said yesterday.

Oceana, a group formed three years ago to track worldwide efforts to protect the seas, said chlorine plants that don't use a more modern mercury-free technology spew twice the mercury of some coal-fired power plants and should share some blame for fish consumption advisories in the Great Lakes as well as advisories against eating too much tuna from oceans.

There are far more power plants, though. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that power plants are responsible for about two-thirds of America's airborne mercury, a dangerous toxin that can cause problems with brain and nervous-system development among children.

While Oceana agrees the primary focus should be on power plants, it said chlorine makers should not be given a free pass if they have not converted to a mercury-free technology.

Ninety percent of the chlorine made in the United States is manufactured with the cleaner process. The other 10 percent is made by nine manufacturers that haven't embraced it, including Ashta Chemicals Inc. of Ashtabula, Ohio, the group said. Ashta is Ohio's single-largest source of mercury emissions and the nation's fifth-largest mercury emitter. Ohio, which has more coal-fired power plants than most states, is second only to Texas in mercury emissions, U.S. EPA records show.

An Ashta spokesman was not available yesterday. But Zoe Lipman of the National Wildlife Federation, a group often critical of state and federal regulators, praised the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency for negotiating improvements at Ashta. In September, the agency announced a $1.54 million settlement that will prevent the release of 1,320 pounds of mercury annually from Ashta.

Although not mercury-free technology, the improvements will be "an important step forward," Ms. Lipman said.

Also yesterday, several groups claimed 12 of Ohio's 21 largest power plants increased annual emissions of sulfur dioxide between 1995 and 2004 and eight of them increased their annual emissions of smog-forming nitrogen oxide during that period.

But Jack Shaner, an Ohio Environmental Council spokesman, noted that FirstEnergy Corp.'s coal-fired Bay Shore power plant in Oregon posted reductions.

Contact Tom Henry at:

thenry@theblade.com

or 419-724-6079.



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