Botnia's statement on the August accident at the Fray Bentos mill in Uruguay.
On August 14, two workers were harmed when heavy winds blew sodium sulphide at the Fray Bentos mill in Uruguay operated by Finnish pulp producer Botnia. The accident was used by critics of the mill - including Argfentina's government and Argentine activists - as the latest example of unsafe conditions at the mill. However, Botnia says the damage was minimal. Here is the full statement issued by Botnia on August 17, 2007.
As regards the accident related with the handling of sodium sulphide, we would like to make clear the following:
Last Tuesday morning, while activities related with the handling of sodium sulphide were being carried out, two Uruguayan operators who carried out tasks for the Brazilian company Isolenge, and which were approximately 20 metres away from the exclusion area showed symptoms of irritation and indisposition.
The medical report issued by the Technical Director of Hospital Amedrin in the city of Fray Bentos, MD Gerardo Contreras, states that around 11 a.m. on Tuesday, a mobile emergency service was contacted and requested assistance of two Uruguayan workers hired by Isolenge and working at Botnia´s mill. Some time later, 10 more Uruguayan workers also hired by Isolenge were assisted as well.
All of them had suffered from exposure to sodium sulphide. However, it was certified that just two of them showed skin, sight and upper respiratory tract symptoms and no other complications. The remaining workers showed no important clinical symptoms.
The two workers showing symptoms were admitted to Mutualista CAMS in Mercedes (their hometown) to undergo observation and monitoring. At present, all the workers are in good health conditions and back at their homes.
On Thursday morning, and after the works had been suspended, other workers appeared at the health care facility at Botnia´s site stating that they had intoxicaton symptoms. However, the medical doctors verified that they showed no symptoms.
Description of events taking place on Tuesday 14 August:
The accident on Tuesday took place while emptying out bags containing sodium sulphide in the tank where synthetic white liquor will be produced. This had already been done several times and nothing had happened. Besides, the product was being handled by staff who is duly trained and wearing protection equipment.
As a result of winds of up to 50km/h heading NE-SW in the area where the handling was taking place, dust particles of sodium sulphide dispersed in the air. The product appears in the form of flakes, but some lots actually had fine dust resulting from flake friction. Part of the fine dust dispersed in the air to reach the area where workers of other companies were carrying out activities.
Athough safety measures had been taken, the strong winds were not actually considered. Hence, those who handled the product were not affected at all whereas those who were working 20 metres away actually did.
Upon occurrence of the accident, the works were stopped immediately and handling of sodium sulphide was not reassumed until Thursday night when the product was handled in the presence of representatives of the General Inspection of Labour of the Ministry of Labour and Social Security. It was on Friday that they actually gave approval of the additional safety measures requested.
It is to be made clear that the product being handled was sodium sulphide (it was neither sodium sulphate nor chlorine) and that the sodium sulphide does not smell of chlorine. The handling of sulphide at the mill only takes place once and during the inspection and verification stage.
On the other hand, as regards statements made to the press on this day concerning black liquor waste, Botnia would like to make clear that they are false.
At no time and in no way were there any water or air emissions of black liquor.
Inside the process and as part of the trial tests for verification of facilities Botnia has been carrying out since April, the different areas at the mill, including each one of the basins at the effluent treatment plant are being checked.
Initially, the basins were filled with water. Then, diluted black liquour brought from another pulp mill was stored as part of the process to create and activate microorganisms which will take part in the biological treatment of effluents.
At that time, it was verified that water was leaking through the concrete joints of some of the basins, which was actually detected through the inspection pits where those fluids were collected. Immediately after that, the water leaks were returned to one of the empty basins. At no time and in no way was the Uruguay River or the environment affected. The containment mechanisms which is one of the elements that cause this mill to be one of the leading mills as regards environmental care, worked properly.
It should be made clear that the black liquor is a substance resulting from wood cooking. During the process, the lignin is separated from the cellulose. During production, the black liquor is recovered and energy is produced from biomass and the collection chemical products are recovered.