New Brunswick

Potential mask and gown makers turn to Maine and N.B. pulp and paper company

A global shortage of synthetic cloth material used in disinfectant wipes and some protective masks has manufacturers experimenting with paper products from a company with deep Maine and New Brunswick roots in the fight against the spread of the COVID 19 virus.

Twin Rivers' filter paper tested for use in masks and disinfectant wipes.

Twin Rivers Paper Co. pulp mill in Edmundston. The company's paper mill is in nearby Madawaska, Maine. (Youtube)

A global shortage of synthetic cloth material used in disinfectant wipes and some protective masks has manufacturers experimenting with paper products from a company with deep Maine and New Brunswick roots in the fight against the spread of the COVID 19 virus.

Twin Rivers has a paper mill in Madawaska, and a pulp mill across the St. John River in Edmundston.

They share a lab and the company's seven-person research and development office.

"We've got clients and people coming out of the woodwork," said Brian McAlary, the company's vice president, development.

McAlary said a global shortage of the synthetic cloth used in some masks, as well as in disinfectant wipes, has manufacturers hoping to produce both products turning to filter-type paper already made at a Twin Rivers mill in Little Falls, N.Y.

Twin Rivers is also working with two companies hoping to manufacture disposable hospital gowns and drapes using a barrier-coated paper that can be produced at the company's Madawaska mill.

The shortage of masks is becoming a big factor in the fight against the COVID-19 virus.

Some major Toronto hospitals are already rationing surgical masks. Similar conserving of personal protective equipment is being reported at hospitals in B.C. New Brunswick hospitals were recently warned against the "excessive" use of masks for patients who didn't meet certain COVID–19 criteria.

U.S. deliveries 'on hold'

Restrictions on the exporting of masks at the US border have exacerbated the situation in this country.

A shipment of 295,000 surgical masks New Brunswick was expecting from the United States is described as "on hold" after President Donald Trump ordered manufacturer 3M to prioritize orders of N95 respirators for American use, said Premier Blaine Higgs on Monday

Twin Rivers is now dealing with six US companies that are hoping to mass produce lower quality masks that can still be used in the health sector.

"None of them were mask producers before, they were all in other parts of the business and they were not even clients of our company," said McAlary. "What they've done is they've gone into everything from utilizing mechanized sewing to garment sewing, to die cutting some of our products to make these masks. And they are all in some process of development and testing at the moment."

The companies are trying to help out with the crisis and keep their people employed, he said.

FDA compliant

Because Twin Rivers has been making the paper for use in food packaging and the production of coffee filters, it is already US Food and Drug Administration compliant.

Twin Rivers has sent sample sheets with technical data specs to the manufacturers, who have been trying to mass produce prototypes with what McAlary describes as varying degrees of success.

The paper company has staff consulting with the manufacturers hoping to use mechanized stitching systems to produce the masks in large volumes.

The same synthetic cloth shortage has left disinfectant wipes manufacturers scrambling. That too has the phones ringing at Twin Rivers.

"Because of the lack of supply they have moved forward to try to utilize paper in the application. It's always been available, but synthetic was just more available so they went [previously] in that direction."

McAlary says with the increased demand, the company is moving orders around to accommodate buyers.

About the Author

Connell Smith is a reporter with CBC in Saint John. He can be reached at 632-7726 Connell.smith@cbc.ca

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