Wood dust suspected in B.C. sawmill blasts
Unusually dry timber from pine beetle infestation could create explosive dust
Posted: Apr 24, 2012 8:58 PM PT
Last Updated: Apr 24, 2012 9:11 PM PT
The second lumber mill explosion and fire in B.C. in four months is raising questions about the kind of wood that mills in the province are cutting and the amount of explosive dust that could be in the air inside the buildings.
The Lakeland Mills sawmill in Prince George blew up in what witnesses described as “a ball of flame” Monday night, killing one man and injuring 24 more workers, nine of them with serious or critical injuries.
The blast was similar to one that killed two people and destroyed a mill in Burns Lake in January. The conclusions from investigations into the incidents are months away, but one expert suspects that dust particles suspended in the air inside the mills could be the culprit. And others point to the kind of wood the mills are working on.
'Do we have a build-up of combustible dust like we haven't experienced before? If so, let's deal with it.'—Independent B.C. MLA Bob Simpson
"I was ... fearful that there would be another occurrence of what happened in Burns Lake," Industrial hygienist Neil McManus told CBC News.
"There's a lack of appreciation, it appears, among the general public about the potential for organic materials, when they're finely powdered, to be able to explode."
The provincial government has ordered the immediate inspection of dust levels in all B.C. sawmills.
"These explosions — two of them in such short order — are extraordinary,” said B.C. Labour Minister Margaret MacDiarmid. “There are people who've worked in this industry for over 30 years and have never seen an accident of this type."
Both of the destroyed mills were cutting wood from trees killed by pine beetles, which is much dryer than timber from live trees and its dust particles can be more easily ignited. The probability of dust explosions in B.C. sawmills wasn't much of an issue as recently as 10 years ago, but since then, the harvest of pine beetle timber has increased significantly.
About 70 per cent of the lumber that Lakeland Mills in Prince George was cutting was from trees killed by pine beetle infestation.
"You can see increases in the harvest level anywhere from 60 per cent to 100 per cent more,” said Harry Nelson, an assistant forestry professor at the University of B.C. “I'd say, on average, mills have been harvesting and cutting around 70- to 80-per-cent pine over the last five or six years."
Mills built decades ago were designed to handle wetter, green timber.
"Every mill in that area needs to be looked at through this lens,” said independent B.C. MLA Bob Simpson. “Do we have a build-up of combustible dust like we haven't experienced before? If so, let's deal with it."With files from the CBC's Belle Puri
Latest British Columbia News Headlines
- Teen's death sparks call for social services information
- The Alberta government wants to see changes on how provinces share information about children under the protection of social services. more »
- Christy Clark thanks Liberal MLAs in Vancouver
- B.C. Premier Christy Clark thanked her newly elected and re-elected MLAs in Vancouver on Thursday, who gathered for the first time following the Liberals' surprise victory in last week's provincial election. more »
- Pickup truck backs up over mother, 2 children in tent
- A 20-year-old woman has been arrested for allegedly backing her pickup truck over a mother and two children who were sleeping in a tent at a campsite in northeastern B.C. more »
- Fever medicine for infants, children under recall
- Quality concerns with a Chinese producer of acetaminophen have prompted a recall of four fever medications meant for infants and children. more »
Top News Headlines
- Toronto Mayor Rob Ford fires chief of staff
- A week after bombshell allegations that Toronto Mayor Rob ford was videotaped smoking crack, the mayor's chief of staff was fired and Ford is continuing to stonewall reporters. more »
- Federal Court won't remove MPs over robocall allegations
- The Federal Court says it won't throw six MPs out of their seats over allegations of widespread vote suppression through automated robocalls in the 2011 federal election. more »
- Alleged Ford crack video seller not responding to calls
- The journalist who broke the story alleging Toronto Mayor Rob Ford was recorded on video smoking crack cocaine says he may never be able to get his hands on the evidence. more »
- Bridge collapses on Washington State highway
- The Washington State Patrol says the Interstate 5 bridge over the Skagit River at Mount Vernon has collapsed, dumping vehicles and people into the water. more »
- Vancouver man abandons Porsche on B.C. ferry
- B.C. teen saves pet dog in 'terrifying' cougar attack
- 750 homes sliding away in Quesnel, B.C.
- Flood watch underway in central B.C. Interior
- Plumber's car explodes near Vancouver apartments
- Christy Clark thanks Liberal MLAs in Vancouver
- Men found dead in B.C. lake wore oversized life-jackets
- New West parkade a blight on revitalized waterfront
- Johnsons Landing homes must be abandoned, says report