- Associated Press - Thursday, February 4, 2016

CONVENT, La. (AP) - A Louisiana environmental nonprofit organization wants more information from a St. James facility and state agency about the handling of a mercury release concern.

The Advocate reports (https://bit.ly/20IMb7E ) the Louisiana Environmental Action Network tells Noranda Alumina and previous owner, Kaiser Aluminum Corp., in a notice of intent to sue letter that it wants to see the plants’ plans for cleaning up the mercury releases, as well as prevention plans.

The Mississippi River complex, which converts bauxite ore into alumina, a precursor for aluminum, had been under scrutiny since revelations last year that the facility may have been releasing mercury into the air for decades without a permit. Mercury is a heavy metal that in higher concentrations can harm the human nervous system, heart, kidney, brain and lungs.

Noranda spokesman John Parker said the company has been working under a compliance order with DEQ since 2014. He said the company hasn’t seen the letter nor been contacted by anyone from LEAN.

LEAN’s attorney, Richard Webster at Public Justice, said he hopes the letter will prompt communication with the company to address the problem and negate the need for a lawsuit.

The state Department of Environmental Quality reports a mobile lab detected a plume with elevated levels of mercury in the air downwind of the Noranda plant last month, though officials said there was no threat to the public

DEQ said the monitoring lab found that mercury in the air was 2½ half times higher than the worldwide ambient average, though that’s still 230 times below the state’s safe level.

Department officials cautioned that the results at this point are not over a long enough sample period to be generalized. “It’s really too small to draw any decent conclusion,” said Greg Langley, a DEQ spokesman.

Still, the revelations have caused concern among residents and business owners who are requesting for tests independent of DEQ and Noranda to be performed.

Parker said this week that Noranda believes DEQ is the regulator “best suited to evaluate the extent of mercury air emissions, if any.”

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Information from: The Advocate, https://theadvocate.com

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