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Settlement being worked out for cleaning up mercury pollution in Penobscot River

Posted on October 4, 2021

BANGOR, Maine (WABI) – More than 30 years of mercury pollution in the Penobscot River led to more than 20 years of legal battles deciding how to fix it.

A resolution is finally here.

Friday in federal court in Bangor, a fairness hearing began to hammer out the details of a proposed settlement the Maine People’s Alliance and the Natural Resources Defense Council worked out with Mallinckrodt.

The settlement comes after ongoing lawsuits against the company to pay for decades of mercury pollution from the HoltraChem plant in Orrington, which at one time was owned by Mallinkrodt.

A study found upwards of 12 metric tons of mercury entered the river between 1967 and 2000 posing a threat to lobster and other wildlife.

The settlement would have Mallinkrodt pay between $187-$267 million for cleanup efforts.

The two primary solutions are called dredging and capping.

Dredging removes the soil at the bottom of the river which also removes any attached mercury, while capping puts layers of sand on top of polluted areas to keep mercury from leaking into the water.

Both tactics have their pros and cons.

The solution for the Penobscot River will be to use both in certain areas.

”I think both capping and dredging are pretty proven methods for dealing with pollution like this. To go in and get that out is the most effective thing. It does cost more, but it’s definitely the most effective, though there are areas of the river where we do think capping can be cost effective and will isolate the mercury so that it won’t get out,” said Jesse Graham, Co-Director of the Maine People’s Alliance.

The hearing continues Monday and Tuesday with more witness testimony.

A member of the Penobscot Nation will speak along with other members of the public on Tuesday.


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