Worker dies from blastomycosis outbreak at Michigan paper mill

April 17, 2023
So far, everyone who has been affected by the outbreak has been a Billerud employee, did contract work for the company, or had visited the paper mill.

Billerud has temporarily idled its Escanaba paper mill in Michigan due to a blastomycosis fungal infection outbreak at the facility. The plant may be closed up to three weeks while the company deep cleans the mill. The Public Health Delta & Menominee Counties (PHDM) brought the outbreak to Billerud’s attention on March 3. According to The Detroit News, one mill employee has died from the fungal outbreak, 21 people are sick from the infection, and 76 others are suspected to have it. So far, everyone who has been affected by the outbreak has been a Billerud employee, did contract work for the company, or had visited the paper mill.

In a recent quote, Christoph Michalski, Billerud President and CEO, said, “Our top priority now and always is protecting the health and safety of our employees and contractors who work at our Escanaba Mill. We care deeply about their well-being and are doing everything we can to protect them and identify and address the root cause of the blastomycosis fungal infections. As a precautionary measure, we will temporarily idle the Escanaba Mill for up to three weeks to facilitate additional proper cleaning based on recommendations from NIOSH and other organizations, which requires larger portions of the mill to be vacant while this work is performed. The financial impact is assessed to be limited since the production at the Escanaba Mill was being adjusted to meet current market demand.”

Kevin Kuznicki, Billerud President North America, added, “We are following recommendations from experts at these organizations, including deep cleaning in high traffic areas throughout the mill; inspecting ventilation systems and replacing filters, and testing various raw materials coming into the mill; conducting an onsite Health Hazard Evaluation to study the health and safety of Escanaba employees with the assistance of NIOSH, CDC, MDHHS and PHDM; communicating regularly with employees, contractors and visitors, encouraging them to wear NIOSH and OSHA-recommended N95 masks and recommending they contact their local healthcare providers if they are experiencing any symptoms. The temporary idling of the mill to perform additional cleaning is another proactive step we are taking.”

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