The pulp and paper industry gives us paper – but researchers are concerned about the chemicals that are involved.

The pulp and paper industry has become an important part of modern life because paper products are so prevalent in virtual every aspect of human life — even in this digital age.

Pulp and paper mills produce 9 million tons of pulp annually according to the U.S. EPA. With approximately 565 facilities and over 200,000 employees across 42 states in the U.S. alone, the pulp and paper mill industry is a huge part of the American economy and our everyday lives.

However, paper mills also have a considerable effect on humans in terms of occupational hazards and environmental impact, according to a 2010 review by Colin L. Soskolne and Lee E. Sieswerda that is  available on the Public Health Agency of Canada website.

Pulp and paper mills use a variety of chemical substances that are potentially hazardous to human health. They affect not only the workers but also the surrounding communities.

Chemical exposure varies from one mill to another and depends on factors such as

  1. Wood species
  2. Pulping process
  3. Bleaching process

Because of modern insight into the dangers of certain substances, some chemicals have been eliminated or reduced in the paper industry, including asbestos.

However, exposure to hazardous materials may happen at any stage in the paper-making process. It has been shown that workers often encounter gaseous sulphur compounds, chlorine and chlorine dioxide, which can cause respiratory and cardiovascular health concerns, but which have not been linked to cancer.

Other vapors that pulp and paper industry workers may be exposed to include:

  • Terpenes
  • Sodium hydroxide mist
  • Methanol
  • Ethanol
  • Sulphuric acid
  • Furfural
  • Hydroxymethylfurfural
  • Acetic acid
  • Formic acid
  • Gluconic acid
  • Hydrogen peroxide, and more.

In addition, the presence of dust particles that contain lime and sodium sulphate during the chemical recovery process can be harmful. Long-term exposure has been associated with lung cancer.

Other materials workers may be exposed to include pesticides used for control of slime and algae, chlorinated organic compounds and hexavalent chromium in stainless steel welding during maintenance work. Historically, pulp and paper mill workers have been exposed to asbestos, which may affect cancer rates for some time to come.

The two writers acknowledge that it has been difficult to study the effects of chemical exposure at pulp and paper mills. However, “given the known hazards and the potential for both environmental and human exposure by any number of pathways, vigilance on the part of governments for regulation and ongoing workplace and environmental monitoring remains a health imperative,” they conclude.

Clean the air with industrial air purifiers

Electrocorp’s SSU Series: Industrial-strength air cleaning system

Electrocorp manufactures industrial-strength air purifiers for superior chemical and odor control and has designed units that are specifically suited for the pulp and paper mill industry.

Electrocorp’s IAQ solutions are both efficient and affordable. For room-to-room ventilation (filtering the air from a contaminated room and pushing clean air into another or out into the atmosphere) the SSU module air scrubber is ideal.

This system can also be used to scrub the air in the room and keep the clean air circulating in the same space.

Our carbon air scrubbers rely on virgin activated carbon filtration to remove the most chemicals, gases and odors from the air. Contact us for more information.

Source: Cancer risk associated with pulp and paper mills: a review of occupational and community epidemiology.