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International Paper Company Explosion, The Writing's on the Wall

On January 22, 2017, an explosion in the evening hours at the International Paper Company rocketed the Cantonment and neighboring Pensacola communities. Although the result didn’t produce any work-related injuries at the paper plant, homeowners and those traveling within its vicinity were caked with “black liquor,” which is a tar-like substance that includes wood fibers, water, and pulping materials used in the paper-making process. The black liquor created a nuisance through its continued clean-up and raucous smell that continues to permeate the affected communities.

The plant experienced a manufacturing process failure, causing significant structural damage to the largest pulp digester and to the powerhouse. No further updates have been provided on the events that led up to and caused the rupture.

The following day, International Paper hired a Toxicology Emergency Response Program (“TERP”) to survey neighborhoods and assess the damage. The TERP found the same thing-- thick black liquor covered homes and the landscape, a convincing odor, and alarmed residents. And, residents and the affected communities should be alarmed.

The explosion invited a host of claims including property damage and depreciation to home values, property damage to vehicles, property damage and lost profits to businesses, and lost income claims to employees that may include some employees to relocate or be retrained for other sources of employment. Furthermore, there is just no telling, at this time, of the health consequences that the explosion may had reaped on individuals.

Those that were concerned about the black liquor were told to wash off the exteriors of their homes and vehicles and, if exposed to the skin, to use a soap solution to wash the dreary substance off, a process that could take up to fifteen minutes. There have been no other health debriefings in this matter.

The debris from the explosion were sure enough to close the US-29, a major thoroughfare, connecting Cantonment and Pensacola. Businesses along this busy highway were left not only to clean up the mess but also lost significant business throughout the day’s closure, which was a Monday and the beginning of the work week.

Two days after the explosion, the Cantonment Digester Incident Unified Command (“CDIUC”) was formed, which is made up of officials from International Paper, Escambia County, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, the Florida Department of Health, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Currently, there are approximately 100 contractors working on the continued remediation and clean-up process.

Additionally, the CDIUC is planning to evaluate each property in the local area to assess and, if needed, remediate contamination resulting from the explosion. Each property will be assessed individually, and background measures will be established to evaluate each property and how to remediate it back to its condition before the explosion. This remediation could include removing and replacing the soil and foliage on the properties. The CDIUC will continue to monitor the air and water pollution caused by the explosion but gave no further details.

International Paper’s Pensacola Mill was opened in 1941 by the Florida Pulp and Paper Company and merged into the International Paper Company in 2000. The mill currently has around 450 employees, which will remain out of work until the paper plant reopens.

If you were affected by the International Paper Company explosion, call Attorney Aaron Watson at The Watson Firm, PLLC today. Mr. Watson and his team of staff and professionals will lead you with your claim and assure you the representation that you need to be made whole from this explosion and nuisance.