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Groups Urge Input on Mercury Removal Proposal for Penobscot River

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Friday, August 27, 2021   

BANGOR, Maine -- A proposed settlement for cleaning mercury out of the Penobscot River is in its 90-day public-comment phase, with court hearings set to begin later this fall.

The agreement requires the company Mallinckrodt to pay between $187 million and $267 million for mercury remediation.

Part of the Penobscot River has been closed to lobster and crab fishing since 2014 because of high mercury levels from a Mallinckrodt chemical plant.

Jesse Graham, co-director for Maine People's Alliance, the group that initially filed the lawsuit, pointed out mercury doesn't go away. It is consumed by aquatic life and becomes more concentrated as it moves up the food chain.

"Mercury is definitely a pretty potent neurotoxin, so it can certainly affect brain development," Graham explained. "Certainly dangerous for fetuses and so, pregnant women should really be avoiding eating any fish or shellfish that have high mercury contamination."

The plant is closed, but Graham said the cleanup effort has been underway for two decades. However, even if the settlement goes through, the Penobscot has other pollution problems. For example, last year, more than 30,000 gallons of chemicals entered the river after a spill at a paper mill.

Graham said first, a major study had to be done to assess the amounts and locations of mercury pollution. He noted attention now has been turned to how to clean it up, and engineers are making recommendations, from removal of sediment to capping certain areas with high mercury concentrations.

"There's lots of mercury that's right outside the plant, but there's also this mobile pool of mercury that moves with the tides that continues to be a major source of mercury getting out into aquatic life," Graham outlined. "So, we want to go in and remove that sediment."

Groups like Maine People's Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council urged Mainers to get involved and submit public comments on the cleanup settlement, either online or at an October public hearing in Bangor.


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