Crofton mill cleaning up after chemical released in air

An apologetic Catalyst Paper said it is working hard with Crofton residents to clean up after a fine spray of pulping liquor escaped

Catalyst mill at Crofton.

Catalyst mill at Crofton.

An apologetic Catalyst Paper said Wednesday it is working hard with Crofton residents to clean up after a fine spray of pulping liquor escaped from the pulp mill and landed on nearby properties.

The first notice came on Twitter Saturday, Aug. 13 with the message: “Apologies to Crofton neighbours. A malfunction this morning ejected some spent pulping liquor. Contact us 250-246-6100 if you were affected.”

Social media erupted as Crofton residents started talking about what they were seeing.

By Monday, the company was thanking Crofton residents for their patience, saying, “We’re working hard to address your concerns.

Contacted Aug. 17 for an update, Brian Houle, environmental manager at Crofton, explained that “On Saturday morning, from 9:25 to 10:05, about 30 minutes, unknown to us, a mechanical failure here in the mill resulted in a fine mist — a very small volume but a fine mist spray — of spent cooking liquor was ejected from a crack in a flange. And that mist became dry particles and was deposited on our neighbours downwind of us.”

Houle said the water-soluble material “is not dangerous or toxic. It’ll rinse off things it deposits on. And we’re dealing with very, very small quantities. But it is visual. It’s something you can see. And it has been an upsetting event for us here at Catalyst.”

Out in the community, the company has been active since the event, he said.

“We’re doing quite a lot. This is a significant issue for us that has definitely challenged our relationship with our neighbours. I’d like to, on behalf of Catalyst, extend our deepest apologies to our neighbours for this impact.

“But, we’ve worked hard to make it right. We’re very motivated and committed to our environmental performance here at the mill.”

The idea is to wash the stuff off, he said, pointing out that Catalyst has been hard at work this week helping its immediate neighbours at a trailer park.

“We’ve had a team of employees in there all week and they’ve been washing and washing and washing. We’ve been removing this residue off of the surfaces it has deposited on, working with the neighbours one at a time.”

But Catalyst will respond to all Crofton residents who contact them about the problem.

“Anyone who’s calling us about this event is being provided personal feedback and a response. Again, it’s a natural material. It’s rinses off of plant leaves. It represents no safety issue,” Houle said.

Because Saturday was a hot, dry day, the residue came down as a dry material.

“If you were inspecting your automobile at that time, looking at the paint surface, it was visible as many dirt specks. But the next morning, after the dew, when things got a bit wet, the nature of this water soluble particulate was that it dissolved in the water and became a little water drop stain,” he continued.

“Some people have needed to give a wash with a sponge, but even rinsing it takes most of it off.”

Houle said it is still hard to estimate how much of Crofton was actually affected.

“I guess the way we are pursuing it is there’s been a lot of media focus on this, and the people who have called to report have been provided the follow up. But it’s really hard to know until people call.”

He said he hoped the problem would be cleaned up soon.

“I’m pretty confident we’ll be done at the trailer park this week. And should be pretty much done on all fronts this week but it could travel into early next week, if more calls come in,” Houle said.

“I guess I would just re-emphasize that we are doing our best to make this right. We work hard to make sure these events don’t happen but when they do, we’re working hard to provide our local residents with the appropriate follow up and feedback.”

Cowichan Valley Citizen