A recovery-boiler explosion at a pulp mill in Peace River, Alta. on Sept. 22 has caused the facility to cease operations for the time being, but employees of the company that runs the mill are still working with full pay.
Nobody was injured in the incident at the Daishowa-Marubeni International Ltd. (DMI) pulp mill, according to Trent Bancarz, a spokesperson for Alberta Labour. The explosion occurred at about 1:30 p.m. that day, he added, and the boiler has been inoperable since then.
“We didn’t issue any stop-use or stop-work orders,” said Bancarz. “Our investigation continues, and we’ve also requested an investigation report from the company.”
Amber Armstrong, DMI’s communications and public-relations superintendent, told COHSN that the explosion had resulted from a smelt water leak in the recovery boiler, which is a ten-story-high unit.
“We had a team on that day that were responding to some indicators that our recovery boiler had some issues,” said Armstrong. “It was quickly determined that there was, in fact, a water leak.” The team immediately initiated emergency protocols and shut down the plant safely.
A recovery boiler produces a substance called black liquor, which turns into smelt, which can become explosive if it comes into contact with water, Armstrong explained. In this case, water leaked from one of the water tubes around the boiler that are intended to cool it down. “What ended up happening is, we had to cool down everything in the recovery boiler and then remove it, and then start looking at each of those water tubes.”
This was the first such incident that had ever happened at the mill, added Armstrong. “But we’re prepared for it,” she said, noting that the company walks through its emergency-response procedures on an annual basis.
“All of our operators, when I interviewed all of them,” she said, “I was like, ‘Were you scared? Were you this?’ And all of them said, ‘We were prepared. We knew when it was happening what to do, and we knew how to shut it down.’
“The training aspect of it over 28 years really kicked in.”
DMI reported the incident to Alberta Labour’s occupational health and safety division on the following day, Bancarz said. Oh&s officials will be visiting the mill to investigate the company’s response to the explosion, and the employer is investigating the incident as well.
“We have our own internal investigation,” said Armstrong, “to make sure we close any gaps. We understand it was an equipment failure, though. We know it’s not a failure related to any of our personnel.”
In the meantime, she added, all of the employees at the mill are still at work, even though the facility is shut down.
“We haven’t had any, and we’re not anticipating any, loss of manpower. We have brought in contractors,” said Armstrong. “Every other operational area in the mill has their own responsibilities that they’re undertaking. They’re doing area projects and cleanups and advancing on training.
“So as much as we hate to have anything affect our ability to produce pulp,” she said, “some of these other areas can really take some time and decrease some of their backlog.”
Bancarz could not determine whether DMI could face any oh&s charges over the incident. Alberta Labour’s current priority is just to investigate, he said.
“That decision’s made by Crown prosecutors, based on whatever facts we gather,” said Bancarz about laying charges. “To say there’d be charges or not would be pure speculation at this point.”
Founded in 1969, DMI is a forest-products company with facilities in Peace River and Quesnel, B.C., according to information from its website. Its corporate headquarters is in Vancouver.