Baileyville mill workers exposed to toxic gas

Posted Feb. 16, 2017, at 12:54 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 16, 2017, at 2:57 p.m.

BAILEYVILLE, Maine — A leak of poisonous gas at the local pulp and tissue mill has resulted in several people being brought as a precaution to Calais Regional Hospital, according to mill officials.

Woodland Pulp sent out a press release Thursday afternoon that indicated 18 people were exposed to chlorine oxide gas at around 10 a.m. during a planned maintenance outage at the mill. Of the 18 people affected, 16 are contractors and two are Woodland Pulp employees, mills officials said.

The exposure was “minimal,” they said, and all 18 people affected were in stable condition at the Calais hospital by 12:30 p.m.

“The individuals will be monitored and observed for an appropriate amount of time before being release,” the statement read.

Chlorine dioxide is a chemical compound used as a disinfectant in drinking water supplies and as a bleaching agent for wood pulp, among other uses, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is toxic when inhaled as a gas.

“Concentrated chlorine dioxide vapor is potentially explosive, and attempts to compress and store this gas, either alone or in combination with other gases, have been commercially unsuccessful,” the NIH indicates on its PubChem website, which is an open online chemistry database. “Because of this, chlorine dioxide, like ozone, must be manufactured at the point of use.”

Woodland Pulp indicated that there was a brief release of the gas due to a lack of ventilation of equipment being worked on during the outage. The situation was quickly corrected, allowing the maintenance project to resume.

Mill officials said the federal Occupational Health and Safety Administration, Maine Department of Environmental Protection, and other regulatory agencies have been notified of the incident.

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