Business Environment Escambia County

IP still exploring causes of Cantonment explosion

February 3, 2017

By Duwayne Escobedo

The power went out at International Paper the day before the digester exploded sending pulp contents and a piece of equipment off the paper mill site, said Brett De Jong, the paper mill manager.

De Jong reported at the Cantonment Digester Incident Community Town Hall Meeting that a faulty large feeder cable that helps power the mill’s machinery went down causing a blackout. IP generates much of its own power.

More than 150 neighbors of the Gonzalez mill attended the town hall Thursday night in the Tate High School cafeteria.

Both De Jong and Howard Partrick, who retired from the paper mill in 2015 after working there for nearly 50 years, said power outages occur from time to time. Partrick said it sometimes caused sparking and usually happened during bad weather.

“One of our large feeder cables falter,” De Jong said. “It took the plant down. We were working to safely restore it.”

De Jong said a team of International Paper, pulp mill and vendor exports are now doing an assessment — called a root cause failure analysis process — to determine what, and perhaps who, led to the explosion that blanketed about 135 properties with the black liquor in the plant’s digester.

IP plans to repair the damaged digester. That cost won’t be cheap said De Jong who added that a schedule hasn’t been done for making the repairs or getting the pulp mill fully operational again.

“We’re leaving it to the experts,” De Jong said. “We don’t want to rush it. We want to give them adequate time to assess it. IP is a big company with world renowned experts. We’ll work that until we have an understanding of what happened.”

Partrick said two big turbines on-site generate power to IP. He wondered whether it was gas, steam, an electrical spark or something else that blew the top off the digester.

“Everytime we had a failure at the mill, we found out what caused it and who caused it,” Partrick said. “They (IP) haven’t talked about it. I imagine it’s top secret.”

He added: “We just thank God no lives were lost in the accident.”

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  • CJ Lewis February 3, 2017 at 9:59 am

    Over on the other side in the corporate media, today’s PNJ story is shocking:

    http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2017/02/02/ip-explosion-experts-dont-know-what-air/97376300/#_=

    I live just north of the airport and we periodically smell the paper mill. One morning I came out and found that half the paint had been damaged on the side of my car in the driveway, the side facing northwest towards the paper mill. A neighbor who has lived here for 50+ years told me the paper mill must have discharged some chemicals. He said it has happened before. I make that point because the paper mill affects all us not just those who live near it.

    Has there been another paper mill discharge of black liquor? If so, what were the effects on people, animals, the environment and even the water? Someone must know. If the so-called “experts” are saying they do not know which chemicals were discharged into the area and spread over the landscape then we should assume that all of the chemicals used in the process were discharged. It should be easy for IP to give the media a list. One thing I have not seen yet is a map showing the extent of the black liquor discharge. Perhaps the PNJ will print one in the near future.

    A central theme of this snafu seems to be that no one knows what happened or is happening or if they know they are not saying because lawyers above their pay grade have told them to keep silent. There seems to be no real coordinator with these public relations events mostly stunts to reassure the public that IP is a good neighbor and really cares but just not enough to tell them the truth at this time.

    One paragraph really needs more follow-up and explanation:

    “Resident Patricia Osbahr asked local Department of Health Director John Lanza if he had visited the Woodbury neighborhood to understand some of the health complaints expressed by residents. He said he had not.”