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New report reveals chlorine production can harm children

Old-fashioned chlorine chemical plants contribute to mercury pollution linked to IQ deficits in children, suggests an new report.

Hidden Costs: Reduced IQ from Chlor-Alkali Plants Harms the Economy was released in May by Oceana, a US based marine conservation organization. The report finds that four chemical plants in the US use out of date methods to produce chlorine and caustic soda. These methods release large quantities of mercury into the air.

Mercury-cell technology has been used to produce the industrial chemicals chlorine and caustic soda since 1894. However since mercury free alternatives have appeared most producers have turned away from the old methods. Besides being inefficient, mercury-based "chlor-alkali" technology is a major source of mercury pollution to our air and water, however the report reveals there are still four producers relying on this technology that emit 15% of the nation’s mercury pollution arising from chlorine production. The report states that in 2006, the four remaining mercury-based chlor-alkali facilities released over 2,000 pounds of mercury into the air –.

The report highlights the costs of mercury pollution to society from these production plants. The effects of mercury exposure have huge societal costs, for example environmental harm to wildlife and heart disease and neurological damage in humans - but rarely are these recognised and investigated. Whilst the report indicates only a small percentage of the total costs of mercury pollution, it indicates these by quantifying the cost to society of reduced economic productivity, as measured by the reduction in the Intelligence Quotient (IQ) of United States citizens attributable to mercury releases from chlor-alkali plants in the United States. For example in 2005, Mount Sinai School of Medicine researchers concluded industrial mercury pollution yearly cost $3.1 billion in lost productivity nationwide due to lowered IQ scores.

The report estimates that the four chlorine plants cost the nation about $8.4 million a year, and calls for their conversion to a mercury-free process used by 95% of the chemical’s makers. The conclusions state that, "Mercury-based chlor-alkali production reduces the economic productivity of the United States and the world as a whole.”



Written on 10 June 2009.

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