Paper mill explosion causes a ‘sea’ of Black Liquor

By Jenny Eagle

- Last updated on GMT

International Paper makes coated paper cups. Picture: International Paper.
International Paper makes coated paper cups. Picture: International Paper.
International Paper Company has completed a mass clean-up after an explosion at a pulp and paper mill in Cantonment, Florida, caused a ‘sea’ of Black Liquor.

The incident occurred at approximately 7.30pm on Sunday (January 22) when the mill suffered significant structural damage to a large pulp digester and power house. 

Demand for fiber-based cups

BeverageDaily reported in March, the company was expanding after seeing a demand in beverage cups​ and was planning to grow its beverage cup business at its facility in Canton, Ohio.

Mark Sutton, chairman/CEO, International Paper, who is part of US President Donald Trump’s manufacturing advisory panel, said there is a growing demand in beverage cups as consumers drive the shift from foam to fiber-based packaging.

There were no reported injuries from the incident on Sunday but the paper mill is now closed and the company is in talks with its suppliers. 

According to Pensacola News Journal the explosion ‘caused a black tar-like substance used in the paper-making process, called Black Liquor to run down the street’.

Florida Highway Patrol confirmed the substance on the road after the blast was black liquor. 

A Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS) filed by International Paper claims black liquor can cause severe skin burns and eye damage; it is toxic to aquatic life; it can be corrosive to the respiratory tract and can corrode metals.

Assessing the extent of the damage

Escambia County Emergency Communications reported that calls began coming in at about 7:38pm on Sunday. Public information officer Joy Tsubooka said in a press statement all employees were accounted for, with no reports of fatalities or injuries.

International Paper said it was currently assessing the extent of the damage to the mill, evaluating supply options and working closely with customers to meet their needs.

‘The incident released a mixture of wood fiber, water and pulping liquor into the surrounding community. We have engaged contractors to develop and implement plans to clean up and dispose of the discharged material as quickly as possible. We are providing all necessary support and resources to our local community and residents as we work through the clean-up,’​ it said in a statement.

‘Our primary focus is on ensuring the health and safety of our employees, contractors and neighbors and on the clean-up of the affected areas and property.’ 

International Paper has manufacturing operations in North America, Europe, Latin America, Russia, Asia and North Africa. Its businesses include industrial and consumer packaging, uncoated papers and pulp. 

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