Olin plant is environmentally responsible

For more than 40 years, Olin's chlorine production plant has been an important part of the Augusta community. Our plant employs 86 area residents, with an annual payroll of $7.5 million, and puts approximately $26.5 million into the local economy each year through the purchase of local goods and services. We can do all of that because we make products that are vital to the nation's health.

That is what we do, but to us, it's just as important to talk about how we operate. We are fully committed to operating the Augusta facility in a way that protects the health and safety of our neighbors in this community. After all, we live here and raise our children here. So, we run this facility in an environmentally responsible way.

That is why we make sure that the use of mercury in our production process is careful and controlled. The mercury that we use is recycled and fully accounted for each year in an audit conducted by independent experts. We meet or do better than the government standards for mercury emissions that have been established to protect human health and the environment. In fact, we discharge only one-third of what the government allows for water.

Overall, we have used enhanced technology and processes to reduce the amount of mercury emissions significantly. We invested more than $48 million during a recent eight-year period to upgrade the Augusta plant, including more than $3 million in state-of-the-art technology to help reduce our emissions.

The steps we have taken are having a positive impact. Since 2005, mercury emissions have dropped more than 85 percent as a result of technological changes. Furthermore, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency did a test of the air around our plant. The agency concluded the mercury levels were similar to background levels found elsewhere in the environment.

For the past two years we have been working with the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to address an important issue in a manmade canal on our plant's property. The mercury there appears to be the result of our operations many years ago. We have proposed a plan that will isolate and contain mercury found in the sediment. The nearly $3 million remediation project will prevent the material from reaching the surrounding environment, including the Savannah River.

The plan includes blocking off the mouth of the canal with a double steel sheet piled wall near the Savannah River and removing water from the canal. A specially engineered plastic material will be placed on top to provide stability. Olin will then cover the canal and the sediment with an average of 5 feet of clean soil from elsewhere on the plant property, then plant grass to prevent erosion. The mercury that will be covered is tightly bound to the sediment and will not move. The covering will prevent mercury from coming into contact with the environment, wildlife, or people. That remediation project will be completed within about six months after it is approved by the state EPD.

For each of our plants, including the Augusta facility, we routinely invest in technology that helps us meet customer needs and protect the environment. We evaluate the specific circumstances at each plant when determining whether a change in technology may be warranted.

We will continue to meet or do better than government environmental requirements. We will continue to make decisions about technology at the Augusta plant based on the facts, not on a coordinated public relations campaign conducted by a Washington, D.C.-based environmental group. We will continue to be good neighbors in this community.

The writer is the Augusta plant manager for Olin Chlor Alkali.

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