05 March 2003 13:57 [Source: ICIS news]
How about a nice piece of mercury with your meal, courtesy of the European chlorine industry?
This is what European diners could be dished up from 2008 if you listen to the European Environment Bureau (EEB). It claims mercury released from chlorine plant conversions will end up in the environment, and ultimately in the food chain.
The group took the opportunity at Euro Chlor’s Chlorine Sustainability conference in Brussels last month to slam the industry’s plans to release 12 000 -15 000 tonne of mercury on to the global market, a claim which Euro Chlor vigorously denies.
The industry association which has signed a contract with Spain’s Minas de Almaden, Europe’s only mercury mine, to resell the mercury, defends its position by saying that for each tonne of mercury returned from chlorine production, one less tonne of mercury will be mined. But, what are the implications for Minas de Almaden? Less mercury mined surely means less miners. Just how does this serve the pillar of social responsibility?
The EEB’s only suggestion to deal with the released mercury is permanent storage, a solution which Euro Chlor has promised to consider. The only problem is that no one has yet developed any proven type of permanent storage to cope with mercury.
This issue, one of many for the chlorine industry at the moment, just serves to highlight the fact that both parties remain as diametrically opposed as ever. The fact that Euro Chlor invited, and the environmental lobby attended, the conference, was perhaps the only positive note. The tension between both sides was very apparent and shows no sign of abating as this recent vehement argument over mercury illustrates.
And while the industry should be congratulated for being one of the first sectors of the European chemical industry to develop sustainability commitments and performance indicators, this is undermined by its stance on phasing out mercury-based production in favour of the membrane process.
The EEB says that the dismantling of the 47 mercury-based plants in Europe is obligatory by 2007 under European Union (EU) legislation. Euro Chlor says this is untrue as plants can operate after this date under an IPPC permit using best available technology that must be considered on an individual plant basis.
The industry is now talking about plants being converted by 2020. The previous deadline of 2010 has disappeared into the mist. Why? No wonder the environmental lobby accuses the chlorine producers of all talk and no action. And while the chlorine industry is full of self-congratulation for its past efforts, its commitment to conversion is less than expected.
In response, the industry says that the economic life of several plants will not end until way past 2010. In addition, producers say they have managed to lower mercury emissions through using better technology and that, for the moment, at least the mercury is currently safely contained in cells.
However, the industry must be more proactive and come up with solutions, not problems.
The European Commission (EC) could help by adopting more efficient law-making procedures that are based on sound science, and are not a reactionary reflection of biased and political views.
Ineos’ Mike Walker criticised the EU at the conference for “unsound and inefficient law-making”. He cited the list of priority substances under the Water Framework Directive and recently adopted controls on chlorinated paraffins as examples of scientific consensus being overruled by the political process.
Whether all the stakeholders could ever come together and agree the way forward for the chlorine industry was a question unanswered at the conference. Although all parties pay lip service to working together for a sustainable future, it seems a long way off in practice. The old antagonisms remained well and truly to the fore and look to be around for some time yet.
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