Thursday, May 17, 2012

Monsanto, Mercury Poison, And You Provide The Rest

Using mercury to produce all kinds of useful items, like PVC, containing methyl mercury; but it was discharged into Hyakken Harbor. Minamata Disease is a very well known part of post WW2 Japan history. Such chemical poisoning was a huge reason that Japan today has very strict rules about toxic chemicals.

But this is Kurashi. Dear reader, I know you expect some beauty, some sense of distance, as in "we have made mistakes in the past, we may make them again..."

Yes, we are human, and we tend to be flawed.

But, I was surprised to learn that in the United States, Monsanto and other chemical companies have been able to hide any such effects that their activities may have had.

Elizabeth Bluemink / Anniston Star (AL) 20jul01
Monsanto contamination now gets scrutiny after 30 years

A new chapter expands Calhoun County's pollution story. This time, it's mercury.
For more than 30 years, historic mercury discharges in the Anniston community have gone unprobed, an investigation by The Anniston Star found. Industrial-released mercury entered the environment decades ago, but no one is sure how much is out there or where it is.
Monsanto Corp.'s chemical plant in western Anniston used mercury and lead, both neurotoxicants, to produce the raw materials for PCBs in the 1950s and '60s.
Before the discovery of PCB and lead pollution in local streams, ditches and low-income neighborhoods, Monsanto operated a caustic soda and chlorine plant that sent as many as 40-50 tons of liquid mercury into its waste stream, company records show. Fifty tons is the equivalent of 10 dump truck loads.
Monsanto employees swept mercury spills into drainage ditches leading to the plant's storm sewer, where traps recovered elemental mercury for reuse. Periodically, Monsanto employees cleaned out the mercury ditches and traps, according to documents provided to The Star by Solutia Inc., Monsanto's spin-off company.
However, an emulsion of mercury, mercuric chloride and other chemicals also went to the company storm sewer and was not recoverable, according to Jim Bryant, a former research chemist who worked at the plant. "Without further treatment, none of the mercury in the emulsion would have been recovered."
"I don't know how you could quantify the losses of that stuff," Bryant said. "It was a primitive system."
There is no evidence to show that Monsanto discharged lead in a similar manner.
Today's state officials claim that until 1999 they were not aware that Monsanto had used mercury, yet former state officials were aware of the fact in 1970, Star archives show.

While Minamata Disease is widely know in Japan, I wonder why there are no such effects recorded in other parts of the world. 

Chisso, the Japanese company that made PVC and PCB, but for years, Chisso Corporation had hidden its use of mercury from the public eye. On November 2, 1959, a riot by local fishermen destroyed Chisso Corporation property. This act of violence succeeded in bringing the matter to the Japanese public's attention. It took another 10 years until 1968, when the Japanese government acknowledged the source of the poisonings, and chemical dumping was finally halted.

Was it really halted?

Chisso expands polyvinyl formal

16 December 1991 00:00  [Source: ICB]

CHISSO CORP of Japan has announced plans to expand its capacity for the manufacture of Vinylec, its polyvinyl formal resin used as a coating for magnetic wires in transformers. The move follows the signing of a letter of intent with Monsanto whereby Chisso would acquire the assets of Monsanto's Formvar polyvinyl formal resins business.
Chisso plans to scrap its existing 700 tonne/year production facility at Minamata, Japan, and build a new 2000 tonne/year plant to begin operations at the beginning of 1993.
Monsanto says it is to delay the shutdown of its Formvar facility in Indian Orchard, Massachusetts, until inventory is sufficient to meet customers' anticipated needs through 1992.
Negotiations to sell the assets of the Formvar business began several months ago as part of Monsanto Chemical's restructuring. Monsanto says Formvar does not fit the company's long-term business strategy. The price, which is still under negotiation, has been reported in the region of Yen300-500m ($2.3-3.9m). The deal is expected to be concluded by January.

Image from Mercury In Your Home


TenThousandThings said...

Thank you for this, Martin.

Mercury is also found in high-fructose corn syrup which is in a large % of US industrially prepared foods. It is used instead of sugar and is made from GMO corn.

Of course mercury is also found in tuna and other large fish, which is completely avoidable. Tuna should be globally banned for many reasons (extinction risk; harm to dolphins, sea turtles and other marine life caught in fishnets; and toxicity when used as food, According to expert Jane Hightower, most people with elevated mercury don't know this is a problem:

Anniston is in this list of "top ten" American man-made environmental disasters:

Martin J Frid said...

Thank you, I had no idea about the mercury in HFCS, seems it is due to caustic soda (Sodium hydroxide, also known as lye) so indeed, best to avoid it.

Tom O said...

I think there was a French photographer who played an important part in bringing the 'issue' of Minamata to the outside world. He also suffered a tad because of this.

It goes something like he just happened to be in the vicinity or had heard a whisper and saw for himself + took pictures of the unnaturally (pun intended) deformaties he was increasingly seeing. Alas he was a nail 'they' couldn't knock down...

Tom O said...

Doh! The 'unnatural deformaties'!

TenThousandThings said...

P. brought to my attention the issue of mercury in coal energy production, which is devastating to health and natural enviironment as well.

I was so glad to read at your blog that Japan is not importing more coal to make up for loss of nuclear energy production; I had been chasing down info on that for while, out of concern - esp. for people in places where coal is extracted, since it destroys their natural environment, communities, heritage, and lives.

Thanks for the head's up on the lye! Sounds as appealing as "pink slime."