A Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman praised several Androscoggin Mill workers Friday for actions that he said limited the environmental damage done by an explosion there earlier this week.
With wood pulp and mill debris raining down around them, the workers ran to the mill’s pulp digester immediately after a pressure vessel within it ruptured on Wednesday. They closed key valves and thus prevented the escape of more pollutants, said spokesman Stephen McCausland, who learned of the workers’ actions while gathering information from state fire marshals office investigators on Friday.
“The fire marshals were impressed,” McCausland said. “They didn’t know this component of this incident until they interviewed the workers.”
The closing of the valves prevented more pulp and debris from escaping into the atmosphere, McCausland said.
Chemically-treated pulp fell from the sky at least a mile away from the mill, much of it landing on the windshields of trucks that were parked outside of the mill waiting to deliver wood. Jay’s fire chief later said that the air pollution created by the fire is not life-threatening.
Mill owner Pixelle Specialty Solutions is exploring options to restart paper machine operations as soon as possible. The machines were not affected by the explosion, Roxie Lassetter, human resources manager for Pixelle, has said.
The Pennsylvania-based mill owner continues to work to determine the cause of the incident and identify any additional corrective and preventative actions. About 200 of the mill’s 500 employees were on site when the explosion occurred. Pixelle completed its purchase of the mill in February as part of a $400 million deal with Verso Corp.
The mill is a key cog in Maine’s long-embattled paper industry, which saw five mills close between 2014 and 2016 but has leveled off since then in a stronger economy. The mill i s Franklin County’s second-largest employer and makes up roughly half of Jay’s property tax base at a valuation of more than $325 million.