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Safety: What Happened at Escanaba, and Other Unusual Events

If there's one thing paper makers have to keep in mind, it's safety. There's no end to the safety meetings, safety trainings, and safety equipment. Jim's weekly articles all end with, "Be safe, and we'll talk next week."

And all for good reason. The paper industry is more dangerous than other industries.

But despite all the safety training, sometimes things happen that you really didn't see coming. This month for safety, we'll cover a couple extra things that aren't usually discussed in those monthly safety trainings, starting with what's in the news:


It isn't exactly a household word, but in Escanaba, MI, and in the pulp and paper industry, it is now. This fungus is common to the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and somehow got inside the Billerud mill, which is now idled for three weeks, while the employees go on paid leave as the mill is cleaned.

Sure, people have had blastomycosis in the past, but have only been affected by it, by having a mild cough. Now for the first time there's an industrial outbreak of this non-contagious fungal infection, and people are wondering why? What's different now? It can't be spread from person-to-person, yet the whole mill needed to be shut down. No one has answers yet. No one knows where the infection even came from.

Ocular Histoplasmosis.

How many times have you seen birds flying around the mill, either making nests under a convenient overhang, or flying somewhere in the mill? The problem with these nests and droppings is the presence of another fungus (Histoplasma capsulatum).

If you knock that a bird's nest to the ground with your hand, or clean up droppings while standing downwind, you risk inhaling this fungus. And if the fungus goes to your eyes, which it can and does, it leads to blindness in one or both eyes. I have two friends who this has affected.

I don't want this to happen to anyone in the pulp and paper industry, and it's 99% preventable. (Nothing in life is guaranteed.)

The best prevention? Hand washing and being careful about ventilation and which way the wind is blowing when cleaning up bird droppings or removing nests (clean upwind, not downwind).

Other oddities.

I'm sure many could write in and tell strange tales of unanticipated things happening at mills that no one ever saw coming. Life is full of such surprises.

The takeaway for today is: take care of yourself, because a healthy you can better fight off strange illnesses. And be thankful for each day you have. Escanaba proves that quite well.

And please, be safe.


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