Mill leak yields little danger to general public, officials say

Published 9:35 am Sunday, June 14, 2015

City and state officials say the general public was never in any danger from Wednesday’s black liquor release from the International Paper Bogalusa Mill plant.

The mill experienced a leak in a process unit that created a mist of diluted black liquor. Mill officials said most of the material spilled onto mill property.

Willis Avenue was blocked off to traffic Thursday at the intersections of Columbia Street and Avenue B so crews could clean up the spill. Hazmat crews from the State Police were on hand Thursday for the clean up. All of the release was cleaned up by early afternoon.

It was reported a 72-year-old male fishing nearby in Bogue Lusa Creek was taken to the hospital as a precaution and later released. Some of the black liquor came in contact with his clothing. Some of the black liquor was believed to have made it into the creek.

“The public was never in danger,” Bogalusa Fire Chief Richard Moody said. “It was a mixture of three different chemicals the people at IP deal with every day. It will irritate your skin if you get enough on you. You have to have a big concentration for it to pose a danger.”

Moody said his department basically was in support mode, blocking off Willis Avenue as the cleanup unfolded.

We basically stood by as Public Works crews put sand down on Willis Avenue and spread it out,” Moody said. “It left an oily surface on the road. It came out like a mist and covered the road”

Bogalusa Mayor Wendy Perrette said all agencies worked well together.

“I’m pleased with the fast response among all the agencies,” Perrette said. “IP notified us that they were on top of it. We were very pleased with the response and we work well together.”

Perrette visited the area Thursday to view the cleanup.

“I went out and met with mill officials and checked on the men who were securing the scene, I’m proud of the men from the Fire Department, Police Department and Public Works who worked to clean up this. ” Perrette said. “We’re confident there are no risks to human health or to the environment.”

Responders from the Department of Environmental Quality observed no harmful effects from the black liquor release.

“DEQ emergency responders noted that there was no indication of impact or discoloration to the creek or its receiving stream, the Pearl River,” DEQ Public Information Officer Tim Beckstrom said via an email.

Despite the word from officials that the danger to the public from the leak was minimal, scores of people in Bogalusa on Friday added their names to a potential class action lawsuit over the leak.