Ban Dangerous Toxins in Paper Mills

Water Pollution

Target: David Sacks, spokesman for the United States Department of Agriculture

Goal: Ban the use of toxic elemental chlorine in wood pulp processing factories

The fish in one of the largest rivers in North America have reached cancer-causing levels of toxicity as a result of the chlorine-bleaching practices of paper mills along the river’s shores. The risk of cancer from toxins in Columbia River fish has been estimated at a staggering 1 in 50 for sturgeon, a class of fish that includes 20 distinct species. This toxicity poses serious risks for humans and animals alike.

Most of us are familiar with chlorine as the strong-smelling chemical used for the sanitization of swimming pools. The potential health risks posed by the substance, which was once used by the United States as a chemical weapon during times of war, may not immediately be clear to some people. The byproducts of chlorine bleach are classified as ‘persistent organic pollutants’ due to their tendency to linger for many years in water and sediment, and have been linked to sterility, mutations and cancer in both animal and human populations. Meanwhile, airborne bleach byproducts are partly responsible for ozone layer depletion in the atmosphere. During the mid-20th century, the birds and fish of the Great Lakes, bald eagles in particular, were decimated by environmental contamination resulting from bleach byproducts.

The dangers from the use of bleach in wood pulping mills were partially addressed in the 1990s, at which point elemental chlorine with carcinogenic dioxins as a byproduct was being used in over 90% of ‘kraft’ pulp production (a particular type of pulping process) globally. As of 2005, the global use of elemental chlorine in pulp production had been reduced to healthier, but still highly toxic 19-20%.

Perhaps the most startling aspect of this form of pollution is that the purpose of chlorine-based bleach is, as it is currently being used in the manufacturing of wood pulp, purely aesthetic. Whiteness in paper—from the type you write and read on to the type provided for you in public bathrooms—is an entirely unnecessary addition, adding insult to the injury that has been the loss of huge percentages of North American wildlife populations. Join the fight to end this mindless destruction of nature by signing the petition below.


Dear David Sacks,

The byproducts of elemental chlorine include known carcinogens that have been linked to sterility, mutation, and premature death in both humans and animals, and yet elemental chlorine continues to be used in paper mills within the United States.

Elemental chlorine bleach is an unnecessary addition to paper products. Elemental chlorine-free bleaching processes include ECF (Elemental Chlorine Free) and TCF (Totally Chlorine Free) are available and used already in many mills as safer alternatives. The birds and fish of the Great Lakes, as well as the emblem of our own country, the bald eagle, have been decimated by the ravages of carcinogens that have been allowed to seep into the soil, water and even the ozone layer. Meanwhile, the human inhabitants of North America are far from safe from bleach pollutants.

Since the initial public recognition of the dangers of elemental chlorine bleach in the 1990s, the usage of this toxic substance in pulp production has been globally reduced from 90% to 19-20%. As a citizen of the United States, I am writing to ask you to ensure that the United States does its part to finally bring that inexcusable remaining percentage down to zero by disallowing paper mills to poison the environment with elemental chlorine.


[Your Name Here]

Photo credit: via Flickr

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