Olin Chemical Releases Mercury in River

An Olin chemical plant released excessive mercury into the Hiwassee River from its treatment pond, but an environmental spokeswoman said the release posed no immediate threat.

An Olin Corp. chemical plant released excessive mercury into the Hiwassee River from its rain-swelled treatment pond but a Tennessee environmental spokeswoman said Friday the release posed no immediate threat.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokeswoman Tisha Calabrese-Benton said downstream drinking water operations were taking extra samples as a precaution.

"Because of all of the high volume of rainfall it overwhelmed their ability to treat the water down to permit limits," she said.

Calabrese-Benton said the release first reported by WTVC-TV in Chattanooga totaled about 50.49 pounds of mercury over three or four days and was stopped early Friday. (http://bit.ly/reURkA). The plant's permit allows a release of 70 pounds of mercury a year.

"I know they exceeded the daily maximum over three days," Calabrese-Benton said.

She said downstream drinking water operations all the way to North Alabama were notified and would be taking extra samples.

"Obviously our main concern is making sure the public remains protected," she said.

She said Olin Corp. reported the release.

An Olin Chemical spokeswoman did not return a telephone message seeking comment.

The manager of the downstream drinking water intake closed to the Olin plant — the 19,000-customer Eastside Utility District about 42 miles away near Chattanooga — said they were testing but were not overly concerned.

Calabrese-Benton said there was already a fishing advisory downstream from Olin's permitted discharge point. She said the excessive mercury release was not in an area where rafting companies on the river operate.

She said the company was developing a secondary treatment facility.

After years of environmental complaints, the company had said in December that it is spending $160 million to change production techniques and stop using mercury in 2012 to make chlorine and caustic soda.

Information from: WTVC-TV, www.newschannel9.com

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