During its early period of operations in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the former HoltraChem chemical plant in Orrington released mercury-contaminated wastewater into the Penobscot River Estuary. The facility was operated at the time by Mallinckrodt US LLC’s corporate predecessor and was later acquired and operated by other companies, including HoltraChem Manufacturing Company. In 2000, Maine People’s Alliance and Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit against Mallinckrodt US LLC under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act asking the court to order an independent study to evaluate the harms from the mercury contamination and then order appropriate remedial measures to clean up the River.
Mallinckrodt US LLC was found liable in 2002 and the Court concluded that the mercury may endanger health and the environment. That decision was upheld on appeal in 2006.
The Court appointed a Penobscot River Mercury Study Panel to investigate the condition of the River and need for remediation. Over the course of nine years, the Study Panel produced Phase I and Phase II studies. The results of those studies were the subject of a trial in 2014 and a Court decision in 2015. The Court ordered a Phase III report conducted by an engineering firm to identify cost-effective remedial actions that would accelerate the recovery of the River. The structure of the proposed consent decree is generally modeled on the engineering firm’s recommendations, which were filed with the Court in October 2018. In total, the extensive Court-ordered scientific and engineering studies lasted more than a decade, at a cost of over $30 million. The Court-appointed engineering firm has created a website summarizing the engineering study and providing access to the reports from the Phase I, II, and III studies.
In addition to this case, there is a separate cleanup process underway for the former plant site in Orrington that is directed and overseen by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Information about that cleanup is available at Beyond HoltraChem and on Maine DEP’s website.