Androscoggin River Inspires Clean Water Act
The Androscoggin River was once so polluted that it would lose all of the oxygen in its waters. Fish became unable to breathe and died by the millions. Sometimes industrial facilities discharged dyes with their wastewater that turned the water different colors.
The river became so polluted that it inspired U.S. Senator Edmund Muskie, who grew up near the river in Rumford, to draft the Clean Water Act in 1972.
Water Pollution in Androscoggin River
Unfortunately, parts of the Androscoggin River still do not meet Clean Water Act standards. The two biggest causes of pollution on the river are the pulp and paper mills in Rumford and Jay. Neither of these mills is as clean as good mills in Europe and South America, mills that are also far more efficient and likely to provide jobs over the long term.
Our Work to Clean Up the Androscoggin
Much of NRCM’s work to clean up the Androscoggin River has focused on the Verso (formerly International Paper) mill in Jay because it was the bigger polluter of the two mills. We worked for many years to get this mill to adopt modern pulping and bleaching technologies that reduce pollution, save energy, and lower operating costs. We sued International Paper in 2005, appealed a waste discharge license for the Jay mill to the Board of Environmental Protection in 2005, and reached out to one of the Jay mill’s largest customers, National Geographic, over the course of several years after that. In the end, National Geographic did ask the Jay mill to make significant pollution reductions due to our advocacy, although not to the extent that we had hoped. Nevertheless, our work led to the biggest decrease in pollution discharges from the mill since reductions that resulted from the Clean Water Act.
The Androscoggin River runs through the heart of Maine. Its waters in Gilead, upriver from the Verso (formerly International Paper) mill in Jay, support a world-class trout fishery that attracts tourists to Bethel and nearby towns. Here, the river is a source of recreation-based jobs, activities, and pride for the people who live in the region.
Further downstream, the river is much cleaner than it used to be and people can now use it for recreation. But the river is still the dirtiest of Maine’s major rivers and could be much cleaner if the upstream mills invested in modern, widely used pollution prevention technologies.