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Investigation continues after workers exposed to gases

BRITISH COLUMBIA (From news reports) -- WorkSafe BC and Howe Sound Pulp and Paper (HSPP) continue to investigate suspected gas leaks that sent two workers to hospital Oct. 12 and caused an unspecified number to experience what WorkSafe describes as "symptoms ranging from exposure to strong / noxious / foul odors, to feelings of light headedness, dizziness, nausea, sore throats, and headaches."

HSPP confirmed this week that there were additional reports of gas exposures on site between Oct. 13 and 22.

A WorkSafe BC preliminary inspection report on the incidents during the week of Oct. 9 to 13 released to Coast Reporter said, "A number of workers have recently reported inhalation exposures and associated ill health effects to what is thought to be gas(es) which may in some way be associated with the commissioning of new process equipment on site. While a gradual start-up protocol was followed using water followed by steam to identify and address system leaks and other issues with the commissioning of the new equipment, there was insufficient occupational hygiene risk assessment conducted to determine the identity, risks and controls for hazardous substances, including but not necessarily limited to gases and vapours, that are directly or indirectly associated with the change in process(es)."

The report says that five buildings were evacuated as a precaution and access to other areas of the mill was restricted.

WorkSafe issued an order to the company to bring in "suitably qualified occupational hygiene expertise to work with HSPP personnel to identify hazardous substances, assess exposure risks, conduct air sampling as necessary and determine appropriate exposure controls."

Kathy Cloutier, director of communications for HSPP parent company Paper Excellence, said this week, "HSPP has adopted measures to reduce the risk of gas exposure to workers on site and has brought in outside resources such as a hygienist to help design these measures... Continuous monitoring implemented late last week has shown no measurable gases. We are cautiously moving to return to normal based on the monitoring results."

A new contract between Paper Excellence and Unifor local 1119, ratified in August, included the appointment of a full-time union safety representative. The WorkSafe report says that representative was included in a walk-around of the mill site Oct. 13.

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