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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
ACRIMONY OVER MERCURY SUPERFUND SITE IN GULF OF MEXICO INTENSIFIES WITH COMMERCIAL FISHERIES
LAVACA BAY, TX, April 26, 2005 --/WORLD-WIRE/-- On May 3, at 6 pm, in Port Lavaca at the Calhoun County Agriculture Building, commercial fishermen, oystermen, shrimpers, and seafood dealers from Calhoun County and the surrounding area will meet to discuss legal options after a December 2004 settlement between the U.S., Texas, and Alcoa over the Lavaca Bay Mercury Superfund failed to address economic and health impacts on the local commercial fisheries and their families.
The lineup of speakers include Jim Blackburn, Rice University professor and author; Jim Cole, Cole, Cole, & Easley; Grover Hankins, Hankins Law Firm; and Hulen Selman; Dr. Catherine Perz, University of Houston; and Dr. B.J. Priestly, Texas A&M (retired).
The meeting is being sponsored by Calhoun County Resource Watch, a nonprofit environmental group established in l989.
Sediments in Lavaca Bay were contaminated with mercury from past operations at Alcoa's Point Comfort facility. Alcoa Inc. owned the Point Comfort Plant from l948 until l994, when it was purchased by Alcoa World Alumina L.L.C. For several years during its period of ownership, Alcoa operated a chlorine-alkali processing unit at the plant and discharged wastewater containing mercury into Lavaca Bay. Other areas around the facility were contaminated with polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons as a result of the processing of coal tar at the facility.
In the early 1970's, mercury levels in oysters in Lavaca Bay were significantly elevated and the Texas Department of Health closed parts of the bay to the harvesting of oysters. In 1988, the Department issued a closure order prohibiting the taking of finfish and crabs for consumption from a portion of Lavaca and Cox Bays, based on mercury levels found in these resources. The closure order remains in effect for portions of Lavaca Bay.
A Preliminary Public Health Assessment prepared by the Texas Department of Health stated in l995 that eating fish and crabs contaminated with mercury at the concentrations observed from the closure area of Lavaca Bay could affect the unborn fetuses of pregnant women and, as such, classified the Lavaca Bay site an urgent public health hazard.
Methylmercury is a nonspecific toxin, meaning it can attack a variety of body systems. It often damages the central nervous system, resulting in consequences such as concentration difficulty, memory loss, and mood changes. Mercury can also cause birth defects. Its biggest impact is generally in the first two months of pregnancy, when a woman may not even know she is pregnant.
Recently, numerous experimental, epidemiological and biochemical research studies have shown that mercury is "directly linked to the development of autism spectrum disorders and is significantly toxic to the gastrointestinal, immunological, metabolic and neurobiological systems in children," yet the Texas Department of Health's1995 Preliminary Public Health Assessment of the Alcoa (Point Comfort)/ Lavaca Bay Mercury Superfund site failed to assess of the number of children with mental disabilities and whether the number was higher than would be expected within the area. Its conclusion: Unknown.
Diane Wilson, founder and president of CCRW, stated, " There is much about this Superfund that is frankly alarming and a little bit of an unknown. For instance, What's the health impacts on fishing families? That's an unknown. "
"Another for instance. How much mercury -- the same mercury that is still causing the problems today -- was actually lost from Alcoa's operations? In a half dozen state and federal studies, Alcoa estimates that prior to l970, around 156 pounds of mercury per day was lost, yet in a lawsuit between Alcoa Aluminum and their insurers, the insurers claim Alcoa knew as early as l969 that it was losing 305 pounds of mercury a day. Additionally, a letter dated October 14, l970 and written by the chairman of the Safety and Health Committee, Local 4370 of the United Steelworkers of America, stated that, according to operators' testimony, they believed Alcoa was losing about 300 pounds of mercury a day from at least one source. It is this type of misinformation that, frankly, has us alarmed."
Jim Blackburn, an environmental lawyer from Houston, said, "The bottom line is that we need to know the true amount of mercury lost, how dangerous is it, and who has been impacted by this. I am really concerned that we haven't got the complete picture and this is not acceptable. "
Calhoun County Resource Watch
361-785-4680 or 361-676-0663
Catherine Perz, Ph.D
University of Houston, Victoria