Millworkers ordered to stay on MacKenzie job to avoid gas spill
Emergency Environmental Legislation has been invoked at the MacKenzie pulp mill in BC, meaning staff and workers have to stay on the job and cannot go on strike, otherwise a potentially deadly leak of 15 tonnes of chlorine dioxide could erupt into the atmosphere.
Chlorine dioxide is the most toxic chemical used at the site, and if the tanks rupture in the freezing, below zero temperatures, a chlorine gas cloud could engulf the forestry complex and the nearby town, and could kill eveyone who comes in contact with it.
The order, issued Sunday under Section 87 of the Environmental Management Act, requires a skeleton crew of 32 mill workers and 13 staff, who haven’t been paid for up to five weeks, to remain on the job keeping the mill and its sensitive systems warm.
Mill manager Tom Boughner informed the government Friday night that staff would not show up for work Monday as they were no longer considered employed and could be held liable if anything went wrong.
That forced the government’s hand.
The tanks could rupture if the power boiler to the mill is shut down, which would happen if all the workers walked off the site.
The government will pay the workers for their time on the mill now.
The MacKenzie mill is located near Prince George, and it is estimated to cost about $800,000 a month to keep the mill and its deadly chemicals from freezing in the extreme temperatures. However, at this point, it will cost more to move the chemicals and dispose of them.
If the province has to dismantle the mill, the environmental cleanup cost would be about $30 million to $50 million.