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Olin Corp.'s Augusta plant will eliminate mercury use

Reconfiguration will cost 50 of 75 workers their jobs

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Olin Corp. announced Friday that it will eliminate the use of mercury in its Augusta plant in the next two years, but the change will lead to the elimination of two-thirds of its local work force.

After the reconfiguration, which is expected to be complete by the end of 2012, the plant will end production of mercury cell chlor alkali and will manufacture bleach and distribute caustic soda.

The plant has 75 full-time employees, according to Olin Chlor Alkali Products' Web site. About 50 of those positions will be eliminated as a result of the changes, the company said Friday.

The job cuts "will likely occur in phases beginning at the end of 2012," said Elaine Patterson, Olin Corp.'s director of government and public affairs, in an e-mail Friday afternoon.

One of the most vocal opponents of Olin's use of mercury has been Savannah Riverkeeper. The environmental group's executive director, Tonya Bonitatibus, said the plant's very existence was riding on the elimination of mercury from its manufacturing process.

The alternative processes at other chlorine-manufacturing plants are more energy efficient and cost less than the mercury-based process, she said, meaning that Olin's competitors are able to undercut the company's prices.

"It is extremely sad to have lost these 50 jobs, but had they not made this decision, they would have lost all of them," Bonitatibus said. "They made this decision because, economically, it was the right thing for this plant to do."

Frank Chirumbole, the president of Olin Chlor Alkali Products, said in a statement, "Following months of careful consideration, we have determined that these changes are essential to allow continued operations at our Augusta plant."

Olin CEO Joseph D. Rupp acknowledged that outside pressure, in the form of customers passing up Olin products because of the company's use of mercury, was a factor in the decision to eliminate mercury from its plants in Augusta and Charleston, Tenn. Those are two of only four such plants across the country still using mercury to make chlorine; about 115 plants have converted to newer processes.

"Over the past 18 months we have experienced a steady increase in the number of our customers unwilling to accept our products manufactured using mercury cell technology," Rupp said in a statement. "The conversion of the Charleston facility which, in addition to chlorine and caustic soda, also produces potassium hydroxide, hydrochloric acid and bleach, will prevent the possible loss of these valuable customers."

One "valued customer," according to Patterson, is German chemical company Wacker Chemie AG.

Wacker announced in February 2009 that it would build a hyperpure polycrystalline silicon plant near Olin's Charleston facility. Wacker cited the that proximity to the Olin plant as a deciding factor to build the plant in Tennessee, and the chemical company announced Thursday that site preparation is under way on the $1.5 billion facility.

Tom Rowland, the mayor of nearby Cleveland, Tenn., told the Cleveland Daily Banner that health, safety and environmental protection are fundamental to Wacker's decision-making.

Regarding the loss of jobs in Augusta, Olin officials said they will offer "retention incentives and relocation opportunities" for some of the affected employees. Those who are not offered a new position or who choose not to accept one will receive assistance searching for a new job and a financial severance package, the company said.

"We understand the impact our Augusta plant reconfiguration will have," Chirumbole said. "We are committed to working with employees and the community as this process and our Augusta facility moves forward."

Bonitatibus said this "has certainly been a week for the Savannah River" from an environmental perspective, focusing on Olin's announcement and word earlier this week that a planned incinerator by GreenFirst LLC farther upstream in Elbert County, Ga., will not go forward.

"Merry Christmas, Savannah River," she said.

Associated Press reports were used in this article.

Comments (19) Add comment
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dailychroniclereader1
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dailychroniclereader1 12/10/10 - 10:15 am
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Congratulations to all those

Congratulations to all those mercury-free protestors. You just caused 50 people to lose their job. 50! And remember, don't break one of your energy-saving light bulbs at home. That bulb contains more mercury than Olin has spilled in years. Read the label.

unbiased_propaganda
165
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unbiased_propaganda 12/10/10 - 11:58 am
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dailyreader - Are you really

dailyreader -

Are you really saying that an energy-efficient bulb has more mercury than Olin disposes? in years?

I'm not even going to take the time to address something that ridiculous.

Secondly, does it make it right for a company to dump mass amounts of mercury into an entire community's drinking water, just so that 50 employees can have a job?

tuffenuf4u
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tuffenuf4u 12/10/10 - 12:00 pm
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Don't worry, they will be

Don't worry, they will be eligible for 99 weeks of unemployment compensation. By the time 2014 rolls around I am sure there wil be other jobs available.

afadel
399
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afadel 12/10/10 - 12:18 pm
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Whatever the motive of Olin's

Whatever the motive of Olin's decision, it is good news that its pollution will be reduced.

GOSHEN77
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GOSHEN77 12/10/10 - 12:35 pm
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Hold Ceo's personally

Hold Ceo's personally responsible for their companies.

dailychroniclereader1
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dailychroniclereader1 12/10/10 - 02:41 pm
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Unbiased? Maybe. Propaganda,

Unbiased? Maybe. Propaganda, certainly.
You say they "dump(ed) mass amounts of mercury into an entire community's drinking water". C'mon.... I trust you have the EPD evidence to back up such a stupid claim. Please inform us...how much has Olin "dumped" in the past few years? You apparently have an idea of how much. The state and federal regulations on companies like this are extremely tight and constantly monitored. Go ahead and call EPD and when you get accurate information rather than propadanga, let us know.

iletuknow
7
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iletuknow 12/10/10 - 03:34 pm
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Built in 1965, Olin Corp.’s

Built in 1965, Olin Corp.’s Georgia facility is the youngest of the last four mercury-cell chlor-alkali factories in the country. Nevertheless, this factory has consistently been a major source of mercury pollution in Georgia. The Olin Corp. factory is an unnecessary contributing source of mercury to the Savannah River.

More than 100 factories around the world have switched from mercury-cell technology to mercury-free technology in the chlor-alkali industry. In order to modernize its Georgia and Tennessee factories, Oceana estimates it would cost about $90 million and $117 million, respectively.

If these factories were to modernize to mercury-free technology, it could slash energy consumption by up to 37 percent while increasing operating capacity by up to 80 percent. For Olin Corp., mercury-free technology could save about $57 million over five years in energy savings alone from these two factories.

unbiased_propaganda
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unbiased_propaganda 12/10/10 - 04:10 pm
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Actually daily - When the

Actually daily -

When the "Olin: Go Mercury Free" Campaign was started 6 years ago, the sole reason was because a local group and a high school senior discovered more than 10,000 times the allowed state limits at the time in the river - and it was found in OLIN's channel.

dailychroniclereader1
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dailychroniclereader1 12/10/10 - 05:22 pm
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Nice try. Tell that to the

Nice try. Tell that to the 50 families in Augusta that find themselves without jobs soon. Or, here's an idea...why don't you create some nice jobs and hire them?

ron_rlw
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ron_rlw 12/10/10 - 05:55 pm
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Some time back they were

Some time back they were given a choice ... change the process costing millions or dollars to go somewhere else.

We now see what that has cost the area.

tiredofrhetoric
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tiredofrhetoric 12/10/10 - 06:13 pm
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if you are so concerned about

if you are so concerned about mercury - turn off your computer!! coal-fired power plants are BY FAR the largest mercury polluter in the US. but it would be 'inconvenient' to do without electricity, now wouldn't it??? easier to take shots that cost jobs....congrats!

Riverman1
79144
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Riverman1 12/10/10 - 06:50 pm
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Wasn't Olin given extensions

Wasn't Olin given extensions because they promised to convert to another process and keep the jobs? So after the years of extensions when they were polluting and making money, they now decide to shut down that process and fire 50 people. I'd make them pay these 50 people the profits they made on the process all those years when they were polluting and making false promises to the community and workers.

ron_rlw
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ron_rlw 12/10/10 - 07:08 pm
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Riverman - you may be right,

Riverman - you may be right, but I don't think any extention was mentioned in the acticle that I read several month ago that stated that they only had about a year to make up their mind what they were going to do.

DuhJudge
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DuhJudge 12/11/10 - 07:56 am
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The reason the

The reason the environmentalists went after Olin is simply because it is an EASY target which enabled their own relevance. Once the conversion is complete either they will be looking for another target or they too will be out of work. I wouldn't give them a dime.

Runner46
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Runner46 12/11/10 - 09:28 am
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Loosing your job at Olin? At

Loosing your job at Olin? At least you won't be exposed to the mercury vapor and might live a little longer.

tbonitatibus
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tbonitatibus 12/11/10 - 09:42 am
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Usually I make a point of not

Usually I make a point of not commenting on articles that include the Riverkeeper, but in this instance I think a couple of things might need to be cleared up. First and foremost, an "easy target" DuJudge wouldn't have taken 6 years of extremely hard work to achieve success. Tiredofrhetoric, you are right, coal is the largest source of mercury into our system, and it is something that needs to be fixed. Fortunately the Savannah only has 2 small coal plants, one in Aug and one in Sav. The largest source of mercury on the Savannah was OLIN. What we have is a very large nuclear plant, a cleaner source of electricity whose downside is evaporation, not mercury use.
Olin is switching because their customers demanded it. About a year ago it was discovered that mercury had shown up in quaker cereal bars. Want to know why? Because caustic soda is used to make high fructose corn syrup, and that caustic soda was coming from Olin.
DuhJudge you are right, we won't wait till the conversion is over, we have many other issues we deal with right now. And until the Savannah is no longer the 4th most toxic river in the nation, you should thank those willing to work to make your home a little cleaner and safer. I will never be apologetic about my profession, the Riverkeeper, nor will I every believe what I do is wrong. It is completely your choice to not support our work but we weren't the ones making record profits for the last 5 years, nor were we the ones making the fish unsafe to eat.
We should be congratulating Olin on making the commitment to stay in our area, had they not made this decision they would have closed the doors. Restructuring is never easy, but I can guarantee in the end, their profits will still FAR exceed the entire annual budget of those working to protect and restore the Savannah River.

dwb619
86305
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dwb619 12/11/10 - 11:01 am
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I worked there in the early

I worked there in the early to mid 70's "dailyreader". The surrounding area was dead gray. No plant life, all dead. You may not be aware, but the first EPA lawsuit settled in the state of Georgia was with the adjacent property owner. His cattle were all sick and dying, opens sore and oozing ulcers from ingesting mercury that was in the grass.
You could dig a shallow hole in the ground outside the cell building this morning, at lunch the hole would have a couple inches of mercury in the bottom. Droplets of mercury all along the structural steel in the cell building. I was there when the state would shock fish in canal to sample them for mercury ingestion. And I remember when the ENTIRE Savannah River from Augusta to the ocean was shut down from stripe bass fishing due to massive mercury ingestion.

robaroo
673
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robaroo 12/11/10 - 01:33 pm
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When a company spends the

When a company spends the money to modernize a plant, they always put in a lot of process automation. That eliminates one of the highest costs of running a plant - manpower.

The loss of fifty jobs has a lot more to do with economics than mercury elimination. I admit they wouldn't have modernized if it weren't for the pressure to clean up.

J.W.
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J.W. 12/11/10 - 03:40 pm
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Here's a New Year's

Here's a New Year's prediction for all of you. Olin will close the Augusta Plant as soon as the expansion is complete at the Charleston Tennessee facility. If in doubt, search Olin Saltville Va. Then you can make that 75 jobs lost. Happy New Year Augusta!

Pu239
284
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Pu239 12/11/10 - 05:13 pm
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Hmmmm...Didn't Olin work with
Unpublished

Hmmmm...Didn't Olin work with the EPA to model emissions from their process? I suspect that the aspirated effluent from some of the comments here would trigger a high-limit excursion alarm due to concentrations of bovine fecal matter.

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