May 8, 2023 - Billerud has resumed operations at its pulp and paper mill in Escanaba, Michigan, after a rare fungal disease outbreak that began in March forced the company to temporarily idle operations at the site.
In a written statement, Billerud said, "Following a deep cleaning recommended by public health authorities and experts, the Escanaba Mill has initiated resumption of operations as of May 8. To date, no Blastomyces spores have been found within the mill. The health and safety of our employees and contractors remains our top priority and we are focused on ensuring a safe return to the mill. We continue to work closely with and follow the recommendations of local, state, and federal health experts as they continue to investigate this dynamic situation."
Billerud first learned of the blastomycosis fungal infections on March 3 from the Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties (PHDM), the local health department in Escanaba, Michigan, after PHDC was notified by the local hospital of several atypical pneumonia infections in individuals who work at the Escanaba Mill. Initial testing of individuals confirmed some of these infections are caused by a fungal infection called blastomycosis.
Billerud halted operations at the mill on April 13. At the time, more than 97 employees, contractors and visitors had been diagnosed with blastomycosis.
As of Friday, May 5, 115 cases have been identified. Fourteen people have been hospitalized and one person has died, according to Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties.
Billerud said the cause of these occurrences of atypical pneumonia and/or blastomycosis is currently not known.
"We are taking this matter very seriously and cooperating fully with public health experts as they investigate this situation," the company said.
Billerud also said the source of the Blastomyces has not been identified. "We still have not identified the source of the Blastomyces. At this time, no Blastomyces spores have been found in the Escanaba Mill and the investigation continues in collaboration with health authorities and experts."
The Escanaba Mill employs approximately 830 people and has the capacity to produce 730,000 tons of paper per year. The mill produces graphic papers used in commercial printing, media and marketing applications, including magazines, catalogs, books, direct mail, corporate collateral and specialty papers used in label and converting applications.
The Escanaba Mill's 2,000-acre site has a kraft pulp mill, a refiner mechanical pulp mill, three paper machines, a pulp dryer, three off-machine blade coaters, six supercalenders and six winders.
Billerud's North American operation (formerly Verso Corporation) is headquartered in Miamisburg, Ohio, and operates paper mills in Escanaba and Quinnesec, Michigan, and a roll to sheet converting facility in Wisconsin Rapids, Wisconsin.
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