As the extent of mercury contamination in our environment, our bodies and our food comes to light, concern over mercury pollution is increasing. While most media and public attention has focused on coal-burning power plants, most people remain unaware that a small subset of the chlorine industry makes a major - and completely preventable - contribution to the global mercury crisis.
Chlorine is a chemical building-block used in everything from swimming pools to plastic tents to paper towels. In 1894, a process was devised to produce chlorine by pumping a saltwater solution (brine) through a vat of mercury, or "mercury-cell," that catalyzes an electrolytic chemical reaction. Newer technologies that do not use mercury have been developed, but a number of plants around the world continue to use the outdated technology.