Explosion at US paper mill

Article by Amanda Jasi

AT around noon local time, on 15 April, an explosion occurred at a paper mill in Jay, Maine, US. According to reports there were no fatalities and no serious injuries, however a small number of employees were treated for respiratory irritation.

The blast occurred at the Androscoggin Mill, in the facility’s digester. The digester is responsible for mixing wood chips, water, and chemicals into pulp that eventually becomes paper. According to Sun Journal, a Maine-based newspaper, the digester was built with the capacity to produce 500t/d of pulp, but it is unclear if any changes were made since the mill opened, in 1964. Another Sun Journal report adds that there were no recent indications of “significant problems” at the mill.

The explosion destroyed a key section of the paper mill and destroyed a lot of equipment, says Sun Journal. However, the report adds that the mill’s paper machines were not damaged. Reportedly, Human Resources Manager for the Mill Roxie Lassetter said that the owner, paper manufacturer Pixelle Specialty Solutions, is working out solutions to resume paper machine operations as quickly as possible, to serve customers. Furthermore, it is working to figure out what it can do to keep operating.

Following the explosion, local Fire Chief Mike Booker informed that air quality was safe, adding that despite a nuisance smell, it is not toxic to health. He added that the chemical in the pulp is classified as a mild irritant and will dissolve over time. He did not specify the chemical.

According to NBC News, Lassetter said that of its 500 workers, about 165–175 employees were on site when the explosion happened, with none in the immediate explosion site.

The cause of the explosion is not yet known, but investigators are working to determine what happened.

According to reports, the Androscoggin Mill has a 425,000 t/y capacity for paper production. Currently, the plant produces flexible packaging papers, release liner base, specialty labels, craft papers and linerboard. Pixelle Specialty Solutions acquired the mill in February 2020.

Article by Amanda Jasi

Staff Reporter, The Chemical Engineer

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