Environmental leader Brownie Carson pledges to fight for a cleaner river.
By Daniel Hartill, Staff Writer
For decades, the Androscoggin River has grown clearer and cleaner, yet it remains polluted.
The problem has led Brownie Carson, one of Maine’s leading environmentalists, to pledge increased opposition to the daily dumping of pollutants into the river.
“The Androscoggin is the most polluted river in Maine,” said Carson, executive director of the Natural Resources Council of Maine.
He acknowledged that the paper companies lining its banks have improved their manufacturing processes over the decades, allowing the river to improve significantly. The companies have spent tens of millions of dollars to treat the pollution before it goes into the river.
“The truth is, we have a long way to go,” he said. If paper mills merely backed off, more fish would be in the rivers.”>/p>
The dumping of phosphorous and other materials rob the river of much of its dissolved oxygen, needed by fish to survive.
Mill officials argue that further changes would be costly, perhaps prohibitively so.
As it is now, “the river gets hammered,” Carson said.
Three paper mills – MeadWestvaco in Rumford, International Paper in Jay and Nexfor Fraser in Berlin, N.H. – dump millions of gallons of wood waste and other organic matter into the Androscoggin every day, Carson said.
He said the Jay mill is licensed to dump 46 million gallons per day. The Rumford mill may dump as much as 31 million gallons, the Berlin mill is licensed for 26 million, according to Carson.
On an average day, the mills dump about one quarter of their licensed amount, he said.
Though the effects are seen throughout the river, Carson’s group has focused much of its attention on the Gulf Island Pond area. The impoundment stretches from northern Lewiston to the Route 219 Bridge in north Turner.
The council has done intensive studies there, measuring the suspended solids and phosphorous.
Council members also are watching dioxin levels in the water at Gulf Island Pond. Fear of the toxins have led state officials to post notices along the river banks, warning against the consumption of fish by pregnant women and children.
“If we could just get the river to meet federal standards, it would be a victory,” Carson said, referring to the Clean Water Act.
Carson made his pledge Wednesday night, as he met with members of the statewide group in Bath. They held their annual meeting at the Maine Maritime Museum and gave awards to nature preservers.
Carson spoke of continuing efforts to make homes and offices more energy efficient. He repeated goals of removing more dams on Maine rivers.
He also condemned a now-defeated energy bill before Congress that would have relaxed regulations on coal, oil, nuclear power and natural gas.
“We stopped the single most destructive legislation I have worked on in my 20 years at the council,” Carson told attendees. “It had enough pork in it to sink the Battleship Missouri.”>/p>