Not settling for less than total cleanup in Orrington

Posted May 01, 2009, at 5:31 p.m.

As Mainers, we are fortunate to have immeasurable beauty as the backdrop to our everyday lives. Whether this comes in the shape of attending school in the shadow Mount Katahdin, relaxing to the reflection of a sunset rippling around islands that extend towards the horizon or the simple joy of following in the path of the mighty Penobscot as we drive to work every morning, we all share in the beauty that is Maine.

The former HoltraChem site in Orrington has been a stain on the landscape of our beautiful state for many years. That is why so many of us have involved ourselves in the process of holding Mallinckrodt Inc. accountable for the untold amounts of mercury and other toxins the HoltraChem plant released into our land, our air and our river. We know these chemicals have a plethora of harmful effects for humans and wildlife alike, and as a community, we have felt both sadness and outrage that they have been released upon our shores.

Despite the immeasurable damage this company’s negligence has had in the communities that so many Mainers call home, we find ourselves fighting a new battle every month against those who tell us we should settle for less than total cleanup. The latest assault was in the form of the opinion piece “Do right thing for town, environment” (BDN, April 29). In this piece, John Claussen advocates giving in to Mallinckrodt’s fleet of attorneys on the cleanup in Orrington. He states with persuasive prose that allowing this polluter to skirt an order from the Department of Environmental Protection to finish the on-site cleanup would provide “faster and greater overall benefits” to our town. Mr. Claussen’s basic argument is that because action on the site is held up by legal challenges, it would be better to broker a deal that would leave a few hundred thousand tons of mercury-contaminated sludge in an old, leaking, unlined landfill rather than removing it to an out-of-state facility.

I am not fooled by his “advice” and I reject his reasoning as a crude attempt at scare tactics. The only reason we have not seen immediate action after the DEP issued an order to clean up the remaining landfills is legal action on behalf of Mallinckrodt. Mr. Claussen went out of his way many times throughout his article to insinuate that it is the DEP’s approach that will be time consuming, conveniently omitting mention of the gaggle of lawyers paid by Mallinckrodt who have drawn out the cleanup process to date. As I am sure the company and their lawyers are keenly aware, the most expensive part of the cleanup will be the full removal of the toxic waste. That is the burden of a polluter.

The company’s legal battle and its attempts to divide the public are both for the same purpose: to avoid the hard work and expense of cleaning up its mess. The Maine People’s Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit nearly a decade ago to compel cleanup of the HoltraChem site. Now that the finish line is within reach, the company and its lawyers will use every tool at their disposal to derail the process of justice. While they quibble in court or on the pages of our daily newspapers, mercury and other toxins are still leaching into the Penobscot River. Even after installing a groundwater capture and treatment system, the site was still in violation of mercury discharge levels five times in 2008 alone. Leaving the sludge on-site is not an option. It must be taken to a facility built for this very purpose and maintained by specialists, not left in unlined landfills 300 feet from the banks of our river.

As a resident of Orrington, I take issue with a lawyer from Camden recommending that we submit to the demands of an out-of-state polluter. It is bad enough that a careless polluter poisoned our community. But for yet another lawyer to offer “advice” in a thinly veiled attempt to weaken our resolve, divide the community and shift the blame is a slap in the face. Our community will continue to stand together, to use one voice and to make one demand: Clean up our town.

Timothy Conmee of Orrington is a member of the Maine People’s Alliance.

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