Editor's note: The Republican Journal does not fact-check opinion columns. This column reflects the writer's opinion and personal research.

I was getting worried. I had been procrastinating about getting lodging in the far northwest corner of Denmark, where I was planning to look at the Denmark operations of Nordic Aquafarms, a Norwegian company that wants to build in Belfast one of the biggest industrial salmon farms in the world.

I didn't think it would be hard to get lodging in that remote area, the summer season being well over. I didn't know the area had become a surfing destination called “Cold Hawai'i.” The first two or three places I tried were booked, and I was forced to start looking out of town, in the countryside, though I had no transportation.

I finally got a place, in the small village of Hordum. But I didn't know how I would get around.

Fortunately the Airbnb was only two kilometers from a flag train stop, and Bente, my hostess, picked me up. She was a jovial, wily woman with a wry smile. When we got to her old, charming farmhouse, she discovered I had no food and drove me right back to town to get some.

She asked me what I was doing there, and I told her. She said she knew a mechanic who might rent me a car, and that her nephew used to work at Nordic's Maximus fish farm. I said I'd love to talk with both of them.

To my considerable relief, I got the car. And I spoke with Bente's nephew by phone.

The next morning I set out to make a big circle, all on remote, lightly traveled roads. Perfect. West to the North Sea, and north through Denmark's first national park — a barren, windswept place — to Hanstholm, location of Nordic's Sashimi Royal fish farm and its Denmark offices.

Sashimi is located right in the working, industrial harbor of Hanstholm, right beneath the biggest windmills I had ever seen. Nordic CEO Erik Heim had told me the week before in his Fredrikstad, Norway, office that I was welcome to contact Claus Rom, Nordic's Denmark chief, but I received no response to multiple emails, and when I went to Rom's office, I was told to leave and not take any photos.

I drove on to Nordic's remote Maximus plant, where Nordic produces small fish, known as smolt, to feed the Sashimi Royal plant, where the smolt are raised to maturity. Maximus is small, nondescript and hard to find. I saw nothing particularly interesting, so I took a few photos and pushed on to the home of Bente's nephew.

Lars Hansen, not his real name, is an immediately likeable Danish 14-year-old. He is eager, enthusiastic and energetic, and his broad grin is infectious. He lives with his family in a modest, comfortable middle class home in a small village. Sitting at his dining room table, Lars told me he went to New York for six days, for a family wedding. He loved New York, and couldn't wait to go back. He took the Maximus job to save for a return trip.

Lars is like any other happy kid — only he may soon be the center of a Danish government inquiry and possible full-blown investigation into possible labor and child labor law violations at Nordic Aquafarms' Maximus fish plant.

Lars worked at the Maximus plant for six or seven months beginning in late 2017. His duties included cleaning out fish tanks, for which he used a DuPont chemical called Virkon S. Lars told me that when working with Virkon S, he was given gloves and a mask, but no protective eyewear.

Lars' duties also included suctioning up uneaten fish food from the bottom of fish tanks. To do this, he used a suction device. But the device wasn't fully automated. To initiate suction he sucked on a tube with his mouth, as one would to syphon gas from a gas tank — only this was into a fish tank that contained fish feces. Lars asked management about making this fully automated and was told it would disturb the fish.

Lars said that in his time at Maximus, the facility lost five to seven complete fish tanks to disease, and he said Maximus lost on average one of every 25 tanks. On Sept. 19 in his Norway office, Erik Heim told me Maximus had never had a problem with disease.

I thanked Lars for his time and drove my rental car back to my lodging in the next village. I emailed Claudette Bethune, an American scientist who was fired from her Norwegian government job for her work on high levels of toxins in fish-farm salmon. I asked her about Virkon S and she sent me copies of official DuPont disclosures. The document said Virkon S is dangerous to eyes.

So I called AT (Arbejdstilsynet), the Danish equivalent of the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). I was told that under Danish law, workers must use protective eyewear when handling Virkon S, and it is illegal for a 14-year-old to handle Virkon S under any circumstances. As a result of my inquiry, AT is opening an official inquiry and possible full-blown investigation into Nordic Aquafarms for possible labor and child labor law violations.

It had been a long day. I was tired, and it was a relief to return the rental car and no longer worry about crashing it on unfamiliar turf. I walked back to my old, charming farmstead. I marveled at the constant wind and admired how the constant wind from the west had bent to the east what few trees there were about. I admired the big windmills that dotted the landscape everywhere I turned.

And when I got home, Bente's husband practically forced on me various cans of beer from the remote and wildly dramatic Faroe Islands, a Danish territory in the North Sea he had recently visited. I didn't protest, but I couldn't stop thinking about 14-year-old Lars.

Lawrence Reichard is a first-place Maine Press Association winner, freelance writer and activist who lives in Belfast.

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