Editor’s Note — This article is part of our new Undergraduate Research Series. You can read more about it here.
By Brion Harrison, Coral Mullen, James Rupinski, and Alec Schweinberg
Paper mills present a source of highly concentrated chemicals being added directly to the surrounding environments. Many of these chemicals are known to be toxic to animals and humans. Some have been proven genotoxic, or DNA destroying (Pokhrel & Viraraghaval, 2004, p. 41). Such chemicals are usually fatal or cancer causing on contact, especially chronic contact as one would expect from presence in a water source.
Beyond the possible impacts chemicals have on the individual organisms that they contact, they have the possibility to completely reshape or destroy the environments surrounding the paper mills. According to Eric Mullen, a commercial diver employed at Crofton Diving Corporation who has worked with the International Paper mill in Franklin, Virginia, most paper mills, such as the mill in Franklin, have special procedures in place should a meltdown occur and untreated chemicals exit the plant into the surrounding environment.
Chemicals are not added directly from the plant to the environment; treatment does occur in order to remove as many chemicals from the wastewater. The companies that own the paper mills, however, usually search for the cheapest, fastest, and most efficient treatment processes in order to streamline their production process and reduce costs, increasing their profits. Some treatments that have been developed, or at least proposed, seem a bit unconventional, but have proven to be effective in their treatment of wastewater. Paper mills have begun using plants in the wastewater, effluents and the surrounding bodies of water to soak up the chemicals and diminish their impacts on the environment. The chemicals, should they be left unchecked, move into the ecosystem, enter into the food chain, and work their way up until it impacts humans in the communities surrounding and downstream from the paper mills.
Copyright © 2015 by Marine Science Today, a publication of Marine Science Today LLC.