Article Archive
Risk Assessment
Hidden hazards in making paper
Vol 26 Summer

The basis of this series of articles has always been pre-emergency planning and the emergency responders. The intent of this particular article is to discuss paper mills and some hazards that are present. Consider incorporating these hazards into pre-emergency plans if you work at a paper mill.

Paper mills have been around for quite sometime. Neither the process used to make paper nor the process hazards and by- products of the process have changed significantly. When asked what they would consider the most likely event when responding to at a paper mill, most emergency responders would reply “a large roll paper fire.”

While large roll paper fires do occur, other types of hazards also exist. Some paper mills have complete structural fire brigades while some rely upon the local emergency responders. This is important as there have been times when even the large structural fire brigades have had to reach out for additional assistance during a crisis. Also, keep in mind that the paper mill may be part of a mutual aid organization if they are in an industrial park.

The first thing that everyone needs to know about a paper mill is that it is basically a chemical plant. Located at these facilities are large pressure vessels of many types, sizes and shapes; boilers, digesters, and paper machines, just to name a few. The things you may not know about are methanol storage, turpentine storage, rubber tires, scrap cardboard, large hydraulic systems, enormous wood chip piles and log yards and many other non-obvious hazards. 

Some of the by-products of the paper making process include turpentine and methanol. These liquids are stored in bulk tanks of varying sizes. Since these products can be sold, it is not uncommon to encounter a loading rack for tanker trucks. This can pose a unique situation if a spill fire occurs. It could not only involve the flammable liquid but it could involve the truck and the adjacent storage tank. Some of these tanks are equipped with water spray, some are equipped with foam/water systems and some are not protected at all. Review protection during a tour of the mill so preparations can be made.

At most every paper mill the storage tanks for methanol and turpentine are located in the middle of the location. This can cause logistical problems for emergency responders as access to these tanks can be affected by vehicular traffic, pipe racks and construction equipment. An effective pre-emergency plan should include various routes relative to each of these flammable liquids. Something else to keep in mind is that a paper mill is not always equipped to handle the run-off from a fire like a refinery.

Most every paper mill will have some outside storage. This stored material is meant either to be burned in a boiler for steam output or for the pulp mill, where the wood chip or corrugated cardboard is converted into pulp for making paper. Outside storage may also include corrugated cardboard, rubber tires, scrap plastic, wood chip piles, coal piles and log piles to name a few.

The storage of these materials and their quantities can vary from facility to facility. These areas typically are not well maintained and, generally speaking, have poor housekeeping just by the nature of the operation. Some large dense corrugated carton storage areas will require an aerial apparatus to extinguish a deep seated fire. Special attention should be paid to the storage areas that are adjacent to buildings and structures which may become involved in a fire and create an exposure issue.

Paper mills are full of pipe racks which carry steam, various chemicals and cables. Pipe racks in paper mills are typically not fire proofed like at a refinery, so if a storage fire occurs beneath a pipe rack, it would collapse early. Trying to aggressively attack these fires should be well thought out with consideration given to each and every area. An example of this would be a wood chip fire, which typically starts as a slow smoldering fire.

Paper mills typically mitigate these issues with bulldozers, not water. They simply move the piles until they get to the source and push it away from the piles. Just keep in mind that these hazards can be located anywhere around the paper mill. Some might be located a half-mile away from any building or structure, so they should be sought out, identified and a plan developed to address them if a situation arises.  

Paper mill operations sometimes appear to be well managed and simple from the roadside but if something similar to what is mentioned above happens responders need to be prepared and know what can happen relative to these events.

Feel free to contact this author at or at +1 601-992-3405.                    C

Jeff Roberts, CFPS is with XL GAPS, a leading loss prevention services provider and a member of the XL Group of companies.  XL Insurance is the global brand used by XL Group plc’s insurance companies and underwriting divisions offering property, casualty, professional and specialty insurance products throughout the world. More information about XL Insurance is available at  XL Group plc, through its subsidiaries, is a global insurance and reinsurance company providing property, casualty, and specialty products to industrial, commercial, and professional firms, insurance companies and other enterprises on a worldwide basis. More information about XL Group plc is available at



P: (979) 690-7559
F: (979) 690-7562

Content & Feeds

Download Magazine
Download Media Kit


Feedback Form
Privacy Policy
Ads & Marketing

IFW Sites

IFW Store
IFW Gallery



Thank you for visiting! Join us in our mission by subscribing to IFW magazine, using our Web accessible resources, becoming an advertiser, or sharing your personal input.