A victory on mercury and HFCS

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In my more desperate hours, I sometimes wonder whether raising my physician voice is enough to foster change, to make the food system healthier and more sustainable.

This week brought fresh evidence that it is. Early last year, I teamed up with other scientists to release data indicating that both commercial high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), and processed foods that contained high amounts of HFCS could be contaminated with mercury.

We surmised the likely problem was that some of the latter products were made using HFCS created from caustic soda produced in so-called “mercury cell” chlorine factories. In fact, the food industry referred to this as “mercury-grade” or “food-grade” HFCS. A few American chlorine factories continued to make cell mercury-grade caustic soda despite these problems.

Our reports were the first published information pulling the curtain from this scary practice. Now it appears the chlorine industry took notice. The giant chemical maker, Olin, announced it was spending $160 million to convert its dirty mercury cell chlorine plant in southeast Tennessee to non-mercury polluting technology. Another Olin plant, in Augusta, Ga., will also stop using mercury for manufacturing in 2012. Wahooo!

What changed their minds? Let’s listen to Olin CEO, Joseph Rupp: “Over the past 18 months we have experienced a steady increase in the number of our customers unwilling to accept our products manufactured using mercury cell technology,” he said.

IATP’s work on mercury in high fructose corn syrup came out January 2009.