Concerned Mainers from up and down the Penobscot River Watershed gathered outside the federal courthouse in Bangor this morning to speak out publicly before the court convenes for a hearing on a lawsuit brought by the Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council as part of a 20-year legal fight to hold corporate polluter Mallinckrodt responsible for decades of mercury pollution.
The crowd, including lobstermen and local parents called on Mallinckrodt, a subsidiary of pharmaceutical and medical device giant Covidien, to end their delay tactics and finally take responsibility for the mercury contamination caused by the former HoltraChem plant in Orrington, Maine.
"It's time for our river to be restored so that we can once again feel safe fishing and eating the lobster and other seafood in that region," said MPA member Tim Conmee of Orrington. "We need the corporation that has been found responsible for the pollution to be held accountable for cleaning it up. It's well past time for Mallinckrodt to make this right."
“As a mother, I recognize the threat mercury poses to women who are or are thinking of becoming pregnant, as well as to developing babies and children,” said Terri Young, a mother of two from Bangor. “We've fished and hiked along the river, and we have many friends who live with the river right in their backyards. Sadly it’s no longer a safe place for our family. It is way past time to do something to restore this wonderful resource to Maine people.”
The now-defunct plant, operated by a number of corporate owners over the years, produced chlorine, caustic soda and other products, primarily for the paper industry. During the plant’s initial years of operation from 1967 to 1970, it ran with virtually no environmental controls, dumping tons of mercury, a component in the manufacturing process, straight into the Penobscot River.
In the first trial in the case brought by MPA and NRDC, heard in 2002, a judge found Mallinckrodt liable for the contamination and ordered that the river be studied by an independent panel of scientists. The study found significant detrimental effects from the tons of toxic mercury and recommended active remediation of the river.
In February the Maine Department of Marine Resources announced the closure of a portion of the river to lobstering in reaction to the study’s findings.
“I and most Lobstermen think the closure is the right thing to do and I am here today to make it clear that we think this corporation who made this awful mess needs to pay to clean it up,” said Mike Dasset, a lobsterman from Belfast, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Downeast Lobstermen’s Association. “They have taken away some families’ livelihood in this area and they have polluted and contaminated the river and a small piece of Maine’s signature seafood industry.”
“Corporate polluters across America are watching this case closely and waiting to see if a big corporation with deep pockets can break the law, pollute our waterways and not be held responsible,” said MPA Executive Director Jesse Graham. “At stake in this historic trial is the citizens’ right to hold corporations -- no matter how rich or powerful -- fully accountable for the damage they inflict on our environment and public health.”