Riegelwood mercury plant

Seventy-one former employees of the defunct HoltraChem plant say they suffered serious health problems after workplace exposure to mercury and other hazardous substances.

The workers have filed a lawsuit, and a trial in 2005 is anticipated if a settlement is not reached.

HoltraChem used mercury to process saltwater into chlorine and caustic soda. It shut down the plant along the Cape Fear River in 2000. Mercury was a key component in the production process, and tons of the hazardous heavy metal were left on site.

The Environmental Protection Agency is overseeing a cleanup of the 26-acre property.

Willie Spaulding of Bladen County filed a lawsuit against the company, for which he worked from 1987 to 2000. Spaulding claims he was exposed to metallic mercury, chlorine gas, and polychlorinated biphenyls, or PCBs. He says he suffered permanent nervous system injuries that prevent him from working and living a normal life.

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)