Today, the Arnika Association invited (1) the managing director of Spolchemie Ústí nad Labem, Martin Procházka, MSc, to ensure that his company will stop polluting its neighbourhood with toxic mercury as soon as possible. Spolchemie already published that it planned to replace the currently used amalgam electrolysis by an up-to-date membrane technology, not using mercury. However, the chemical plant intends to implement this replacement in 2015 only. Nevertheless, according to Arnika, it is possible to carry out the replacement in 2009 already, from technical point of view. Through this, Spolchemie would save the environment from more than 10,000 kilograms of mercury which it will unnecessarily release to air, soil and wastes from 2009 till the beginning of 2015, according to calculation based on data of the Integrated Pollution Register.
„On the basis of discussions with chemical technology experts, we know that the replacement can be carried out within two years, from technical point of view. Spolchemie delays the term probably for economic reasons. However, inhabitants of Ústí nad Labem will pay for this by means of unnecessary environmental burden with hundreds of kilograms of mercury. Also 10,000 kilograms of mercury contained in wastes during the period of five years is not a small amount. We did not make up this number, it is based on the data reported by Spolchemie into the Integrated Pollution Register (http://www.irz.cz),“ explained Jindřich Petrlík, DSc, head of the Toxics and Waste Programme of the Arnika Association.
It followed from the Integrated Pollution Register (2) that Spolchemie had the highest amount of mercury in wastes in the whole Czech Republic. It is a very toxic substance (3) which contaminated premises of the chemical plant, and its release is continuously taking place. Even during standard operation, Spolchemie releases more than 100 kilograms of mercury into the environment per year (4), either in the form of emissions to air, which is subsequently breathed by inhabitants of Ústí nad Labem, city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, or by means of water, which, after the treatment process, still contains high mercury amounts (5). Releases of waste waters with mercury content damage the biggest Czech watercourse - the river Elbe, where it deposits in sediments, and, subsequently, it accumulates in fish.
„If we realise that just a gram of mercury is already a dangerous amount, we find that Spolchemie releases really huge amounts of this metal annually, without this being completely necessary. Thus, if Spolchemie insists on replacing the technology in 2015 only, we want that the chemical plant management explains to the public of Ústí nad Labem what are their reasons for further intentional damaging of the environment,“ added Hana Kuncová, MSc, from the Arnika Association.
(1) Invitation of Arnika to the managing director of Spolchemie in Ústí nad Labem, Martin Procházka, MSc
Dear Mr. managing director,
Mercury has been used for chlorine manufacturing in Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem, which is managed by you at present, since the end of the 19th century. During its long-standing use its release into the environment took place in the previous years, but is still taking place even at the present time, directly in the premises of Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem, as well as out of them. In addition to that, in each phase of the chlorine and lye manufacturing process, wastes with mercury content, making these wastes hazardous, are produced. These facts are serious also because Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem is located approximately half a kilometre from the centre of Ústí nad Labem, a city of a hundred thousand inhabitants, and in the vicinity of our biggest watercourse - the river Elbe.
Just as a consequence of using mercury in the past, buildings, soils, and underground waters in the premises of Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem were contaminated to the extent that it was necessary to proceed to decontamination of this old environmental burden. On the other hand, mercury contamination in the current production buildings was not consistently established.
A substitute for mercury used in Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem during chlorine manufacturing exists in the form of a technology change. Your company intends to implement the technology replacement as late as possible, in spite of the fact that it means more than 100 kg of mercury released to air or in waste waters, and 2 tons of mercury in wastes, yearly. The European Commission prepared a strategy for solving mercury problems in the European Union („EU Mercury Strategy“). The document states that the biggest mercury consumer in the European Union is just the chlorine industry with amalgam electrolysis. According to association EuroChlor itself, more than 50% of chlorine and lye manufacturing in the Western and Central Europe (the EU-25 countries and Switzerland) was based on other technologies than the amalgam electrolysis in 2004 already.
Because of that, we invite you by this letter that Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem abandons the technology of chlor-alkali production using amalgam procedure, and replaces it by another available technology, which is more environmentally friendly. Specifically, we have in mind, for example, procedures defined as best available technology (BAT) according to regulation of the European Union (for example, membrane of diaphragma technology). Another, and from the environmental point of view another better, variant could be, naturally, abandoning the chlorine chemistry and specialising of the company on another, less dangerous field of chemistry.
Mercury is one of the oldest and most well-known poisonous substances. It is highly toxic for water organisms, and has long-term adverse effects in water environment. It also readily accumulates in sediments and water organisms. Mercury is no less hazardous to people. Because of that, your company should start solving mercury releases by their complete elimination as soon as possible. We invite you to take necessary steps to replace mercury in the shortest possible term, which is, according to our information, year 2009. If Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem insists on replacing mercury in chlorine manufacturing in 2015 only, we ask you that you inform the public, especially the public of Ústí nad Labem, what the reasons are for your decision, whose consequences will be annual high mercury releases to the environment.
Further, we have the following questions for you:
To which entity and under what conditions will mercury obtained from electrolysers be put out of operation?
When and how do you intend to solve the problem of mercury pollution in the area of the present amalgam electrolysis, and monitor contamination of the environment by mercury in Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem and its vicinity?
How do you intend to solve the problem of old environmental burdens - contamination by mercury, chlorinated hydrocarbons, and other hazardous chemicals - in the vicinity of Spolek pro chemickou a hutní výrobu, a.s. Ústí nad Labem (Klíšský stream and Bílina river)?
On behalf of environmental association Arnika - Toxics and Waste Programme
Hana Kuncová, MSc
Prague, June 13, 2006
(2) Mercury in wastes from Spolchemie
In 2004, Spolchemie reported transfer of 2,075 kg of mercury and its compounds (as Hg) in wastes into the Integrated Pollution Register. This amount of mercury was the highest one in the whole Czech Republic, on the basis of data reported into the Integrated Pollution Register.
(3) MERCURY - Mercury is a highly toxic substance, which causes destroying or damaging of protein structures in cells. Organic compounds of mercury show exceptionally high ability to accumulate in organisms, and to be transferred further in the food chain. This ability was the cause of mass poisoning, which took place, for example, in Minamata bay (Japan), in Niigata prefecture (Japan), and in Iraq. Mercury gets into the body by inhalation, the digestive system, and diffusion through skin. It stays in the body for up to several years. It was found, for example, also in milk of nursing mothers who were in contact with this metal.
Symptoms of poisoning: Vapours irritate the respiratory system, there is a metallic taste in the mouth, tingling feelings on the breast and in the stomach, intestinal troubles (colic, diarrhoea), disorders of the central nervous system, disorders of the balance system and vision, irritability, headaches, forgetfulness, fatigue, shivering of hands, eyelids and tongue, shedding of the teeth and grey border around tooth necks, nausea, fever, coughing, breathlessness, disorders of the kidneys and liver, salivation and swelling of salivary glands, ulcers on lips, and, in the worst case, death.
(4) What amount of mercury is released by Spolchemie
In 2004, emissions to air were: 55 kg (source: Integrated Pollution Register, www.irz.cz), and in 2005: 38 kg (source: Czech Environmental Inspection Agency, regional department Ústí nad Labem).
(5) – Mercury in waste water
Spolchemie transfers mercury by means of its waste waters, which are discharged into the city sewerage system and further conducted to Waste Water Treatment Plant Neštěmice. In 2004, Hg emissions to water were: 70 kg (source: Integrated Pollution Register, www.irz.cz), and in 2005: 54.8 kg (source: Czech Environmental Inspection Agency, regional department Ústí nad Labem).