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Retired publishing executive ecstatic with the idea of spending most of his time on the coast of Maine

Thursday, January 28, 2010


For more than 200 years the Penobscot River was a dumping ground: logs and sawdust from the timber industry, waste from the tanning and cotton industries, heavy metals and organic solids from the paper mills, sewage from everyone. As late as 1967 a state study said that boats could not be kept on the river south of Bangor, since their paint would peel. It wasn't just that a most beautiful river was fouled. The lobsters and fish and future of Penobscot Bay itself were threatened. The Clean Water Act of 1972 started the process towards purification.

So you'd think that in 2010 there would be no more issues about water pollution. You'd be wrong. A chemical plant started operating on the banks of the river south of Bangor in 1967. It used mercury to produce chlorine for the paper companies, and discharged that processed mercury, accidentally and deliberately, into the air, into unlined sludge pits and directly into the river. These discharges were common knowledge but formal investigations didn't take place until the 90s and even then, only a lawsuit successfully prosecuted by citizens' action groups in 2000 forced the company to shut down and start a clean-up of 235 acres of contaminated soil.

Ten years later the State and the company are still litigating. Some progress on the clean-up has been made. No doubt it's a complicated project, with a complicated history of site ownership and disputed solutions, but the simple truth is that the original owner, and the one now responsible for clean-up, is Mallinckrodt LLC, a healthcare company, whose website proudly states: "For more than 137 years, the name Mallinckrodt has been synonymous with purity and innovation in the field of chemical manufacturing and medical products worldwide."

How big companies play with people's health! How our legal system provides cover! Is mercury poisoning a pre-existing condition?

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