LONGVIEW, Washington (From the Daily News) -- Production at Nippon Dynawave's Longview paper packaging mill is picking up again as the company slowly gets its wastewater treatment plant working properly.
Still, while some employees are returning to work another 85 face brief layoffs later this week, according to the workers union.
A bacterial imbalance in Nippon's wastewater system forced it to curtail paper production and furlough at least 36 employees earlier this month. The problem had a ripple effect on several nearby companies that also send wastewater to Nippon for treatment.
"We're in recovery mode and we're slowly ramping up production," said Brian Wood, environmental manager at Nippon Dynawave, which employs 525 employees here at facilities it purchased last year from Weyerhaeuser Co.
Paper machine employees have resumed work as the machines have restarted, said Lowell Lovgren, president of AWPPW Local 633.
However, about 85 employees in the extruder and shipping departments will be furloughed for four days starting Thursday, he said.
The extruders coat paper with plastics to make the laminated packaging for beverage cartons. Right now there is a shortage of paper for the extruders to coat, Lovgren said.
The extruder employees are expected to be back at work on May 22, he said.
It's not clear how long it will take to resolve the bacterial problem, but it could take at least another week for Nippon to resume normal production, said David Bennett, spokesman the state Department of Ecology.
The cause of the imbalance is still not clear, he said.
Nippon noticed ongoing problems with the system last month and the company notified the state of a violation of its water quality permit on April 25. There have been no other water violations at the wastewater plant since then, Bennett said.
Typically, Nippon's wastewater system uses bacteria to consume pollutants in the wastewater, which goes through a multi-staged treatment process before it's discharged into the Columbia River.
Bacteria eat or break down pollutants, such as wood sugars and pulping chemicals in the waste stream.
Problems with bacteria in the system mean it isn't processing solids as it should, increasing the risk that the plant might release too many solids into the river.
During normal operations, the wastewater system processes between 40 million to 45 million gallons of industrial wastewater per day. In the first week of May it was only processing half that amount, according to Nippon. Wood said Monday the system has slowly begun processing more industrial waste, but he declined to disclose the system's current capacity.
Nippon's wastewater facility also serves Weyerhaeuser Co., Norpac, Axiall Corp. and Solvay Chemicals. At times, Nippon had asked the companies to reduce their flow of industrial wastewater to its system.
Weyerhaeuser spokesman Anthony Chavez said its Longview operations haven't been affected. Officials from Axiall Corp. and Norpac couldn't be reached for comment.
Solvay Chemicals, which makes hydrogen peroxide as a bleaching paper agent, has maintained production within normal levels throughout the process, said Alicia Fuentes, site manager at Solvay in Longview.
There were a few days in April and three days in early of May when Solvay was asked to cut back on how much wastewater it sends to Nippon's facility, but since May 5 things have normalized, she said.
"Nippon has been really good working with us, letting us produce and working us back into the system ... and I know they have many experts working (to fix) the system," Fuentes said.