“I am shocked to find out that gambling is going on here!” the police chief says as he closes down Rick’s place in “Casablanca.”

Mainers were shocked to find out that Penobscot Bay was polluted with mercury (presumably from the former Holtra-Chem plant in Orrington) to the degree that a portion has been closed to the harvesting of lobsters.

What? Maine lobsters not fit to eat?

There are serious implications for the lobster fishery.

We need not have been shocked at the presence of mercury in the ocean. We knew mercury was in Penobscot River sediment. Where did we think the polluted sediment was going to travel?

We don’t need to blame only Holtra-Chem for the mercury discharges.


The DEP knew it. Maine legislators knew it. Maine officials and legislators had known for years about the discharge of mercury from Holtra-Chem, and ignored it, because the paper industry wanted to use the chlor-alkali that Holtra-Chem produced, and jobs were at stake.

In 2001, the Legislature facilitated the discharge of mercury by enacting L.D. 1308, Chapter 418 of the public laws of 2001, a complex bill that stayed enforcement action with respect to mercury discharges that violated existing water quality standards, provided the facility adopted a pollution prevention plan.

As Maine legislators weigh the pros and cons of liberalizing Maine’s mining rules in the name of jobs, let’s hope that our legislators bear in mind the Holtra-Chem-mercury lesson.

Mainers cherish the values of our clean water and countryside. That is why many of us live here. But sometimes preserving what we have requires some hard choices. We cannot afford to listen only to the captains of industry and their lobbyists when the quality of our environment is at stake. Many current and future Maine jobs depend on a quality environment.

Jon LundHallowell

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