Vapor floats into the air above the Woodland Pulp and St. Croix Tissue mill in Baileyville, Maine, in this July 2016 file photo. Credit: Bill Trotter

State officials are investigating a wastewater leak from a Baileyville pulp and tissue mill into the St. Croix River.

The spill, which occurred Friday, Aug. 10, involved more than a half million gallons of partially treated wastewater that was discharged from an effluent line, according to Scott Beal, spokesman for St. Croix Tissue, Inc. The tissue company and parent company Woodland Pulp LLC employ more than 300 people at the mill, which is located on the St. Croix River in Baileyville on the U.S.-Canada border.

“We took prompt action to shut the mill down to minimize any impact to the environment and immediately notified” Maine Department of Environmental Protection, Beal said Tuesday afternoon in an email. DEP officials conducted an on-site inspection Monday afternoon, he added.

Brian Kavanah of the department’s Bureau of Water Quality said Tuesday afternoon that the spill occurred when a pressurized wastewater pipeline at the mill cracked. The mill already had removed some solids produced by the mill’s industrial processes from the wastewater that leaked, he said, but had not yet fully treated it.

Kavanah said DEP had not detected or heard any reports about any resulting fish kill or any other damage from the spill.

“We haven’t seen anything,” he said.

Beal also said there are no obvious signs that the spill has caused any immediate harm to the surrounding environment.

“Based on the information we have and our own observations, there doesn’t appear to be any adverse effects to the river’s aquatic community,” Beal said.

Beal and Kavanah each said the mill shut down temporarily on Saturday but has since repaired the line and resumed normal operations. Kavanah added that the mill also increased flow through upstream dams in order to dilute the effects of the spill in the river.

Kavanah said DEP expects to get a report on the incident from the mill by the end of Thursday. Department officials will review the report and information provided by the department’s inspector next month to determine what kind of enforcement action, if any, it should take against the mill.

The department will consider similar spills that occurred at the mill in 2016 when it makes its decision, he said. Speaking generally, without indicating what might result from this particular investigation, Kavanah said DEP could issue a warning letter, a more formal notice of violation or impose a consent agreement.

Beal said the mill is looking into options for how to prevent such a spill from happening again.

“Importantly, no one was hurt from this event nor did we have to lay off any of our employees,” the mill spokesman said.

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Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....