Pixelle Specialty Solutions said Thursday that it is exploring options to restart paper machine operations as soon as possible after an explosion on Wednesday that caused wood pulp to rain down around its Androscoggin Mill in Jay.
The paper machines were not affected by the explosion, Roxie Lassetter, human resources manager for Pixelle, said in an update Thursday.
“We are not in a position to estimate the exact timing of restarting any part of the mill,” she said.
Pixelle, the Pennsylvania-based owner of the Jay mill, still is trying to determine the cause of the incident and identify any additional corrective and future preventative actions. It said on Wednesday the explosion was caused by a ruptured pressure vessel in the mill’s pulp digester. Pixelle completed its purchase of the mill in February as part of a $400 million deal with Verso Corp.
At a press conference Thursday, Gov. Janet Mills said the state is helping Pixelle bring in people from out-of-state to assess the damage.
“We will do whatever it takes on our part to help them find another supplier of pulp in an economic fashion and do whatever it takes to keep that mill alive, bring it back to full steam, keep those people employed,” Mills said.
The pulp digester was significantly damaged, so the mill will be unable to produce pulp for a significant period. Any long-term shutdown of the mill could have a long-lasting ripple effect on Maine’s forest economy because of its role in buying wood chips from sawmills and loggers, experts said.
Despite the large explosion, all employees, contractors and other persons on the site yesterday were accounted for, with no injuries from the incident, Lassetter said. About 200 of the total 500 mill employees were on site at the time of the explosion.
The digester contained a heated mixture of water, wood chips and digestive additives that were dispersed when it ruptured, the company said. Despite the plume of smoke and lingering smell, the air that carried smoke and debris from the explosion is safe to breathe, Jay Fire and Rescue Chief Mike Booker said Thursday.