Canfor recently announced that they would be reopening the Radium sawmill.

Canfor recently announced that they would be reopening the Radium sawmill.

Canfor promises safety in Columbia Valley sawmills

Canfor is committed to ensuring its sawmills in the Columbia Valley are safe, after explosions in two other B.C. mills earlier in the year.

Canfor is committed to ensuring its sawmills in the Columbia Valley are safe, the mayors of Radium Hot Springs and Canal Flats villages learned in a conference call held by the forest company in early May.

The conference call came 10 days after B.C.’s second sawmill explosion of the year in Prince George killed two workers while injuring 22. The first explosion, which took place on January 20 in Burns Lake, also killed two workers and injured 19. Neither of the mills in question are part of Canfor operations.

“They were assuring us they were doing everything they could to make sure that their mills were work safe,” Village of Radium Hot Springs mayor Dee Conklin said.

Currently, WorkSafeBC inspectors are visiting all sawmills in B.C. to ensure safety standards are being met. Sawdust is being considered a potential fuel source of the explosions, as is natural gas and propane, although no final conclusions have been arrived at.

Also earlier this month, The Globe and Mail had reported a Canfor mill in MacKenzie had been ordered to close by WorkSafeBC because of a sawdust buildup.

“That was incorrect,” Canfor spokesperson Christine Kennedy told The Valley Echo on May 18. “There wasn’t actually any closure order there; we had worked with WorkSafeBC to address some issues around the chipper… but there was no actual closure order.”

Kennedy said Canfor was working with the mills, including coastal operations, of other companies all over B.C. to assess wood dust. A CEO action committee and a large task force have formed to determine the cause of the fatal explosions.

“Until we’re told what the cause is, all of the forest companies including Canfor are  looking at all possible causes and all dust-related ways to make our mills safer,” Kennedy said.

“That’s the assurance they were giving us,” said Conklin. “That they were looking into it and making sure that nobody from our communities was going to be in jeopardy at all over some of the things that were happening.”

Mayors of all the Canfor communities were invited to participate in the May 4 conference call. Canfor currently operates 12 mills in B.C. — the Radium sawmill will be the 13th when it reopens later this year.

When the Radium mill reopens, any new WorkSafeBC standards developed by the industry between now and then will be applied at that mill, Kennedy said.

“There have been no modifications made to the Canal Flats mill,” she confirmed, when asked if the recent WorkSafeBC inspections had revealed any safety issues in the Canal Flats location.

There has also been speculation in the industry that dust from mountain pine beetle (MPB) timber could be the ignition source of the explosions. While WorkSafeBC has gone on record to say that the type of wood milled is a possible conclusion, it has not been confirmed.

In response to this speculation, Kennedy said the current infestation rates of MPB in the East Kootenay are low due to the success of aggressive identification and treatment programs, and the amount of dead or dry wood is also low.

“It is correct to say that Canfor mills in the Kootenays process much less MPB wood than in other areas of the B.C. interior,” she said.