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Explosion Rocks IP’s Cantonment, Fla., Mill

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This past Sunday (Jan. 22, 2017) the International Paper lightweight containerboard and specialty fluff pulp mill in Cantonment, Fla., USA, was rocked by a pulp mill explosion that sprayed chemical pulping contents across nearby roads and property areas. All employees were accounted for with no fatalities or injuries. However, the mill experienced significant structural damage to its largest pulp digester as well as the power house. 

Mill officials and Florida Department of Environmental Protection are still evaluating damage and causes of the explosion. Currently, the mill is not operating. IP said that it is assessing the extent of the damage to the mill, evaluating supply options, and will be working closely with its customers to meet their needs.

According to social media and other reports, residents in that area say they heard a loud explosion around 7:30 p.m. on Sunday, and some reported their homes shaking. Others have reported the road in front of the paper mill to be black and covered with a slippery substance.

U.S. Highway 29 in Cantonment from Woodbury Cir. to Morris Ave, and Muscogee Rd. from 297A to Highway 29 were closed Sunday night. Crews worked throughout the night to clear the roads by the next day.
According to an International Paper statement, the mill "experienced a manufacturing process failure that released a mixture of wood fiber, water, and pulping liquor into the surrounding area," covering sections of roads, buildings, and some cars in the area (photo right). The mill added that "if you or your pets have had contact with the materials, please wash the affected area for 15 min. with soap and water. If you are experiencing skin irritation or respiratory issues, please see your doctor. Avoid contact with your eyes and mouth.

"For those nearby the facility, we are working with response agencies from the county and state and will have additional information as it becomes available.

"If the materials have come into contact with your vehicle, please thoroughly wash your vehicle and avoid contact with the material."

IP officials warned that ash and pulp material may be present in areas around the mill and roads. "If you come in contact with the pulp material (which is a sticky substance), it is advised that you immediately wash your hands with warm or cold water and vinegar. Avoid contact with your eyes and mouth. If your vehicle comes in contact with the pulp material or ash, you are encouraged to wash your vehicle," the company said.

The process of roadway cleanup includes placing sand on the roadway (photo above) and collecting the mixture of sand, pulp, and paste, containerizing the material and transporting it to a staging area at International Paper. pH testing has been conducted to ensure cleanup was effective and to ensure that the roadway is safe for drivers. 

The Florida Highway Patrol kept Highway 29 closed for extended hours, as authorities didn’t know what impact the cleaning chemicals would have on the road. The chemical is reportedly of a "soap base," and it was unknown what reaction the chemical would have when moisture was introduced, possibly making the roadway slippery and unsafe for drivers.

School buses in the Cantonment area were re-routed Monday morning to avoid Highway 29, and were delayed and re-routed as students came home on Monday afternoon. A small number of students were unable to get to school Monday morning as buses were blocked from entering the area.

Escambia County Water Quality and Land Management Staff also are testing local waterways for potential environmental impacts.
A representative from International Paper said they are still investigating the cause of the blast. 

At this point, there is still no time frame on how long the roadways will be closed for cleanup.


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