U.S. Water News Online
ORRINGTON, Maine -- A University of Maine professor
testified in federal court that he and his family never swim or fish
in the Penobscot River because of mercury contamination from a
chemical plant near their home in Orrington.
Richard Judd, who lives within a half-mile downriver of the
defunct plant, said his enjoyment of canoeing and bird-watching has
diminished because of his awareness of the potential threats posed by
years of mercury discharges. Judd said he still enjoys seeing the
eagles that nest in the trees between his house and the plant
swooping into the river to catch fish.
"It's certainly a magnificent sight," he said, "but you think
what's going to happen if the eagle eats that fish."
Judd was the final witness for the plaintiffs in the trial of a
lawsuit against Mallinckrodt Inc., a former owner of the plant that
produced chlorine and other chemicals, primarily for use by the paper
industry. The last owner, HoltraChem, ran the plant from 1993 to
2000, when it shut down the operation and later went out of business.
Judd is a member of the Maine People's Alliance and the Natural
Resources Defense Council, which sued St. Louis-based Mallinckrodt,
the operator of the plant from 1967 to 1982. The environmental groups
want the court to order more studies to determine the levels and
risks of the mercury, and to require that the contamination be
cleaned up, if warranted.
Judd said he first learned of the environmental threat from
neighbors who attended his housewarming party after he moved to Maine
about 15 years ago to teach history at the university. He said he
chose a site along the water in hopes of re-creating the pleasures he
remembered from his childhood, when he spent summers along a lake in
But now, he said, he refuses to swim in the river and does not
allow his daughter, now 11, even to wade in it. Judd said he no
longer goes fishing because he would not dare to eat what he caught.
Judd said that if the lawsuit is successful and the contamination
is removed, his daughter or his grandchildren might someday be able
to visit his home and enjoy the kind of life along the water that he
Under brief cross-examination, Judd acknowledged that he has
suffered no apparent health problems from living near the plant.
Following Judd's testimony, the defense moved for a judgment in
its favor on grounds that the plaintiffs failed to meet their burden
U.S. District Judge Gene Carter, who is trying the case without a
jury, said he would set a briefing schedule on the motion.
Meanwhile, the defense -- which had presented one witness --
resumed its case. The trial is expected to conclude soon.
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