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The Great Lakes, the Pulp and Paper Industry, and ECF: A Continuing Environmental Success Story

In less than a decade, waste water from the Great Lakes bleached chemical pulp and paper industry has become virtually free of dioxin. Best of all, it was an industry-wide, voluntary action that made it possible. The pulp and paper industry developed a pollution prevention strategy, developed better bleaching processes, and went to work in the Great Lakes Region and throughout North America.

The ECF success story shows that great things can happen when an industry, public officials, scientists, and communities work together.

"A notable accomplishment occurred when the pulp and paper industry changed its process for pulp bleaching by substituting chlorine dioxide for elemental chlorine. This substitution virtually eliminated the production of dioxins from pulp and paper mills."

We're the Alliance for Environmental Technology (AET), an association of chemical manufacturers dedicated to improving the environmental performance of the pulp and paper industry. AET was created to establish a clearinghouse of educational and technical resources relating to chlorine dioxide and its use in papermaking.

We welcome you to join our efforts to protect the Great Lakes. For all inquiries and requests for information on ECF and related issues, please contact AET at, visit our web site on the Internet at, or read more about the following topics:

Great Lakes Success Story

It's an unprecedented success story - every chapter flowing from a wealth of scientific evidence. In the late 1980s, trace levels of dioxin were discovered in the waters downstream of pulp and paper mills. The dioxin was identified as an inadvertent by-product of chemical pulp bleaching processes then in common usage.

The international pulp and paper industry responded quickly and voluntarily. They developed new pollution prevention strategies...put them into action...and virtually eliminated dioxin.

The real hero of this story? The industry's pollution prevention technology: Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) bleaching.

Turning Point in Pollution Prevention Technology

Elemental Chlorine-Free (ECF) bleaching is based on environmentally sound chlorine dioxide (ClO2).

While chlorine dioxide has "chlorine" in its name, its chemical make-up is very different, making it a more effective bleaching agent and a superior environmental performer. In fact, ECF bleaching decreases chlorinated organics in mill waste water by 90% - virtually eliminating dioxin and reducing the environmental effects of chlorinated organics to the point of insignificance.1

With the pulp and paper industry's move toward ECF bleaching, it's now estimated that other sources are responsible for 99% of the total airborne and waterborne dioxin that reaches the Great Lakes.2

1 BNA International Environment Reporter, Nov. 30, 1994, p. 989.

2 Cohen, M, Commoner, B, et. al., "Quantitative Estimation of the Entry of Dioxins, Furans, Hexachlorobenzene into the Great Lakes From Airborne and Waterborne Sources." Center for the Biology of Natural Systems. May 1995.

Eco-System Recovery

The scientific evidence in support of ECF's environmental success just keeps flooding in.

In both the US and Canada, fish consumption advisories for dioxin downstream of pulp and paper mills have been - and continue to be - lifted.

In fact, 13 states have lifted 20 dioxin advisories downstream of US pulp mills since 1990. Those that remain represent about one percent of the total 1,533 fish consumption advisories currently in effect, according to EPA.3 Further, EPA predicts that all remaining dioxin advisories should be lifted following completion of the industry's conversion to ECF bleaching.

3 US EPA National Listing of Fish Consumption Advisories (NLFCA), August 1995, state environmental and health authorities.

More Good News Downstream

ECF bleached pulps have a high tear and fiber strength. The stronger the paper, the greater its recyclability. Furthermore, studies indicate that other alternatives consume as much as 2% more fresh wood during paper production than an ECF process. 4

There are many other benefits of ECF bleaching. Fifty years of worker experience proves that ClO2 is a safe industrial compound.

In the long-term, technological research is shifting towards development of "closed-loop" systems for pulp and paper production to reduce waste water from mills even further. In fact, closed-loop systems are being developed using ECF technology.

4 Integerated Pollution Prevention and Control (IPPC), "Draft Reference Document in Best Available Techniques in the Pulp & Paper Industry". August 1999. p:22.